November 7th, 2011
By Peter M. DiBattiste, M.D., Global Therapeutic Area Head, Cardiovascular and Metabolism, Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development, L.L.C.
As a cardiologist and music lover, the heart’s constant and rhythmic beat has always been a passion of mine. I’m fascinated by the way that it speeds up when a person is exercising or excited, and the way it slows down during periods of rest.
Sometimes, though, the heart does not contract the way that it should. The beat can become very fast and irregular, in a condition known as atrial fibrillation. This is the most common cardiac rhythm disorder, affecting more than 2.2 million people in the United States, and may leave patients feeling weak, faint, and short of breath. Some patients may not feel any symptoms at all. The irregular heartbeat also leaves people with atrial fibrillation vulnerable to forming blood clots in the heart’s atria, which can potentially travel to the brain, resulting in a stroke.
Patients with atrial fibrillation are at a five-fold increased risk for stroke compared with the general population. Recommended treatments are available to help reduce this risk of stroke, including medications that thin the blood to help prevent the formation of clots. Despite these recommendations, studies show that nearly half of patients with this condition do not receive appropriate medication.This is important to think about, because the results of stroke are potentially devastating, and take a serious physical, emotional, and financial toll on both the patients and their families.