New heart structure research for atrial fibrillation

With a Heart Foundation Project Grant, Dr Katrina Poppe from the University of Auckland aims to find out how much, and what type, of structural heart disease is present in New Zealanders with atrial fibrillation (AF).

Atrial fibrillation research

New atrial fibrillation research is about to get underway. Photo/123rf.com

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an irregular heart rhythm that greatly increases the chances of a person having a stroke.

Long term conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, plus structural heart problems including valve disease and coronary artery disease, can affect the size and function of the heart, and increase a person’s risk of developing AF.

Around 80,000 New Zealanders are affected by AF, however, there could be another 20,000 who do not know that they have it.

The chances of developing AF increase as people get older but most of the data currently available about when that risk increases, or how many people have AF comes from studies done in Europe or America.

Based on the limited information that is currently available, it appears that Māori are more likely to have AF at a younger age than Non-Māori .

Dr Poppe also wants to assess the feasibility of doing echo scans in primary care and within the community using a small portable machine.

The information she gathers is expected to guide doctors and the health system on how much structural heart disease exists in these patients. It could also help with prioritising who is referred on for specialist cardiac services and assessing future options for providing an outreach echocardiography service to high-risk communities.

While many people with AF know they have it, part of the aim of the study is to also detect AF in people who are unaware of it so that they can be assessed and followed up appropriately by their GP.

Screening of participants for the study is expected to get underway in mid 2017.

Dr Poppe says she is grateful for the Heart Foundation funding, as it will allow her and the study team to carry out important medical research and potentially life-saving work in the community.

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