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Atrial fibrillation study to help prevent strokes launches in Eastern region

Atrial fibrillation study to help prevent strokes launches in Eastern region

Researchers from the University of Cambridge who are leading a consortium of academic partners begin work this month on SAFER, the largest trial to date of screening for atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a heart condition that causes an irregular heartbeat and increases the risk of having a stroke five-fold. It affects up to 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 but does not necessarily cause symptoms, therefore many people who have AF are not aware they have it.

The researchers aim to discover if the number of strokes will be reduced when GP surgeries screen for AF in people aged 65 and over and then treat those who have it. They will also work out whether the screening is good value for money for the NHS. The results will help the NHS decide whether to start a national screening programme for atrial fibrillation.

Ultimately, 120,000 patients in 300 general practices across England will take part in the research, which will be the largest ever randomised controlled trial (RCT) of screening for atrial fibrillation.

Patients undergoing screening will use an easy to use, handheld device to record their heart’s rhythm and electrical activity at home. Some people have atrial fibrillation which comes and goes at different times, so this home screening technique will detect cases of intermittent atrial fibrillation that otherwise would be missed in a one-off test at a GP appointment.

The researchers have begun working with GPs and nurses in 12 GP practices around Cambridge, Peterborough, Norfolk and Hertfordshire to fine tune the screening process before embarking on the main trial.

Marie Corcoran, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) nurse, is supporting GP practices taking part in the early phase of the study. She said:

“The use of the  device is simple to explain  to patients, and overall we are excited to be paving the way for the start of the main trial – which will currently be the largest AF screening trial in the world,” said Marie Corcoran.

“Nurses, like Marie, are absolutely central to this research, and we are ensuring the support we give enables them to deliver the study as smoothly as possible’, said Jonathan Mant, Professor of Primary Care Research, University of Cambridge and the senior investigator for the research programme.

The SAFER trial is funded by the National Institute for Health Research.