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Atrial fibrillation is a warning sign for other health problems

Secondary Prevention
Atrial Fibrillation
Risk Factors and Prevention

Sophia Antipolis – 25 April 2021:  The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) today announces the launch of EHRA-PATHS, an EU-funded project to improve the management of elderly atrial fibrillation patients with multiple conditions. The announcement comes during EHRA 2021, the online annual congress of the European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA) of the ESC.1

More than 40 million individuals worldwide have atrial fibrillation, which is the most common heart rhythm disorder.2 Risk of developing the disorder rises with age and the number of other conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure, coronary artery disease, kidney disease, obesity, and obstructive sleep apnoea. Patients with atrial fibrillation have an average of five co-existing conditions3 and these comorbidities have a negative impact on survival.4 In addition, three-quarters of atrial fibrillation patients take at least five drugs.5

Scientific coordinator Professor Hein Heidbuchel, EHRA’s Immediate Past-President, said: “Atrial fibrillation is a warning sign that patients may have other disorders, which is why they take numerous medications. This presents huge challenges for making sure that all conditions are addressed, and patients receive well-tailored therapy.”

EHRA-PATHS is the first multicentre EU-wide project on integrated care for elderly patients with atrial fibrillation and at least one additional chronic condition. EHRA is coordinating the programme, also a first, which involves cardiology and other specialties such as endocrinology and nephrology in each hospital, another novelty. “We will create a management tool to help physicians take a systematic approach to patients with atrial fibrillation which ensures that all comorbidities are identified and attended to,” said Professor Heidbuchel.

The first phase of the project involves mapping multimorbidity and polypharmacy in elderly patients with atrial fibrillation across Europe, including an analysis of potential differences between women and men. The second phase is to discover whether co-existing conditions are currently handled in clinical practice and identify gaps in management. In the third phase, a new overall care pathway will be developed as a software tool.

Phase four is a clinical study in 45 hospitals across 11 EU countries. In each hospital, cardiology plus one other specialty will participate. New atrial fibrillation patients seen during a six-month period will be re-evaluated six months later to see if co-existing conditions were addressed or not – to establish a baseline picture. Centres will then be randomly allocated to the software tool or usual care to see whether the novel management strategy results in more comorbidities receiving appropriate attention. A cost-effectiveness analysis will be included.

Professor Heidbuchel noted that each centre will customise the tool to local referral practices. He said: “To take one example, the tool will not dictate how obese patients must be managed. But it will remind physicians that the issue needs to be dealt with, with a localised pathway adapted to their hospital’s protocols, local availabilities and patient preferences.” EHRA-PATHS is not an outcome trial but wants to guarantee that evidenced-based therapies reach the patient.

He concluded: “As a result of this project, we hope the presentation of atrial fibrillation will be taken as an opportunity by the medical community to methodically address comorbidities. This should lead to better management of individual patients, less polypharmacy, and improved adherence to effective therapies.”



Notes to editor

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EHRA-PATHS has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 945260.


References and notes

1Session: “How to improve outcome in atrial fibrillation?” on 25 April at 10:35 to 11:30 CEST.

2Hindricks G, Potpara T, Nikolaos Dagres N, et al. 2020 ESC Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of atrial fibrillation developed in collaboration with the European Association of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery (EACTS). Eur Heart J. 2021;42:373–498.

3Chamberlain AM, Alonso A, Gersh BJ, et al. Multimorbidity and the risk of hospitalization and death in atrial fibrillation: A population-based study. Am Heart J. 2017;185:74–84.

4Jani BD, Nicholl BI, McQueenie R, et al. Multimorbidity and co-morbidity in atrial fibrillation and effects on survival: findings from UK Biobank cohort. Europace. 2018;20:f329–f336.

5Shaikh F, Pasch LB, Newton PJ, et al. Addressing multimorbidity and polypharmacy in individuals with atrial fibrillation. Curr Cardiol Rep. 2018;20(5):32.


About the European Heart Rhythm Association

The European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA) is a branch of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). Its aim is to improve patients’ quality of life and reduce sudden cardiac death by limiting the impact of heart rhythm disturbances. 


About the EHRA Congress  #EHRA2021

EHRA 2021 is the online annual congress of the European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA) of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).


About the European Society of Cardiology

The ESC brings together health care professionals from more than 150 countries, working to advance cardiovascular medicine and help people to live longer, healthier lives.


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EHRA 2021 takes place 23 to 25 April online.

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