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Screening for most common heart rhythm disorder does not occur in Europe

Atrial Fibrillation
Risk Factors and Prevention

Sophia Antipolis – 25 April 2021:  There are no screening programmes for atrial fibrillation in Europe, according to a study presented at EHRA 2021, an online scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).1

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disorder, affecting more than 40 million individuals globally.2 People with the disorder have a five times greater risk of stroke. Symptoms of atrial fibrillation include palpitations, fatigue, and chest pain.

Interviews with regulators and leading healthcare professionals, conducted by the European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA) of the ESC, lay the groundwork for AFFECT-EU, a large-scale EU funded project to detect atrial fibrillation and prevent subsequent strokes and death.3

Project coordinator Professor Renate Schnabel of the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany said: “Atrial fibrillation often has no symptoms, so people are unaware that they are affected, yet it carries a high risk of stroke, heart failure, dementia and death. In many individuals the condition is asymptomatic, and the first manifestation is a debilitating stroke.”

AFFECT-EU aims to identify who should be screened for atrial fibrillation, and by which method. Options include opportunistic screening at a single time point (e.g. at GP practices), and prolonged monitoring. Risk increases with age, so the population could be everyone aged 65 and over – or a more targeted approach. A total of 28 academic and industry partners in Europe, the US, Canada, and Australia will pool data from more than 100,000 individuals to establish evidence-based advice.

EHRA is responsible for spreading the results and helping with adoption across Europe. The results of the interviews in more than 20 stakeholders reported today provide a snapshot of current practice and perspectives on the most workable solution.

“ESC guidelines recommend screening for atrial fibrillation,2 but our interviews revealed that it is not performed systematically in any European country,” said Professor Schnabel. “The healthcare professionals and regulators we spoke to were aware of the consequences of the disease. In their view, opportunistic screening would be the easiest to implement across healthcare systems in the near future, but they agreed that more evidence is needed.”

Professor Schnabel noted that the project will investigate cost-effectiveness and acceptability to patients. She said: “Screening should be cheap and simple to administer, enabling early detection of atrial fibrillation in the community. Ultimately this will prevent strokes and other adverse outcomes, while maintaining good quality of life. A major aim is to find an equitable solution for patients and nations regardless of their economic situation.”



Notes to editor

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AFFECT-EU has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 847770.


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. 2020. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehaa612.

3For more information on ESC EU-funded research projects visit:


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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