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Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common heart rhythm disorder, and if left untreated, increases a patient’s risk of stroke, heart failure and dementia. But many patients are not adequately informed about their condition and what they can do to manage it well.
For this reason, Dr Caleb Ferguson, Registered Nurse and Heart Foundation Senior Research Fellow at Western Sydney University, is working on designing and testing a new a self-care intervention for people with atrial fibrillation, with the aim of not only keeping people educated about their condition, but also keeping them well and out of hospital.
“The number of hospital admissions due to atrial fibrillation is increasing compared to admissions for other cardiac conditions such as myocardial infarction and heart failure,” explains Dr Ferguson.
“This has been driven by a increase in a range of risk factors, including increasingly sedentary lifestyle together with more people being overweight and increasing alcohol consumption.”
The project, ‘INFORM: AF’, supported by the Heart Foundation and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) aims to develop an intervention to reduce the burden of AF on patients as well as on the health care system.
Atrial fibrillation currently affects 5% of people aged over 65 with the risk increasing with age. The most feared consequence of atrial fibrillation is the risk of developing a stroke.
“Due to irregular heart rhythm, a clot can form in the atrium of the heart which can travel to lodge in a brain vessel, causing a disruption in the oxygenated blood supply to the brain, causing a stroke. This is why keeping patients informed about how to manage AF and optimizing self-care strategies is critical to reducing their risk.”
Symptoms of AF, such as palpitations, dizziness, fatigue, a racing heart and shortness of breath, are often dismissed by patients as minor particularly if the symptoms come and go (as frequently seen in patients with paroxysmal AF). However, Dr Ferguson stresses that knowing the signs and symptoms and receiving an accurate diagnosis is critical to stroke prevention.
“We also need to look at whether patients are receiving the correct treatment and ensuring patient adherence and persistence to their treatment over time,” says Dr Ferguson.
He explains that most patients with AF are on life-long medication for their condition.
“My area of interest is how to keep patients well with their AF and away from hospitals and ensuring patients take their medications correctly is part of that.”
“We are currently undertaking qualitative co-design and pilot research to identify the educational and self-care needs of patients with AF. Defining these needs will assist us in the development of the intervention with aim to improve the lives of those living with AF.”
Dr Ferguson is supported by the Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (2019-2021) and a National Health and Medical Research Investigator Grant (2021-2025).
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