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Global research helps those with heart problems

By Angus Mcneice in London | China Daily | Updated: 2018-10-05 09:37

The United Kingdom has committed 1.9 million pounds ($2.5 million) to fund projects in China, Brazil and Sri Lanka aimed at lessening the impact of a common and potentially fatal heart condition.

The UK National Institute for Health Research, otherwise known as the NIHR, has awarded the funds to researchers at the University of Birmingham who will focus on ways of preventing and treating atrial fibrillation.

The NIHR is part of the UK National Health Service and was established by the British government to support clinical research at home and abroad through its Global Health Research Program.

Atrial fibrillation causes the upper chambers of the heart to contract randomly, leading to an irregular or abnormally fast heartbeat. The condition increases the chance of a stroke fivefold, and more than 25 percent of all strokes are due to atrial fibrillation.

More than 5 million people in China aged 35 or above suffer from atrial fibrillation, according to a 2013 study conducted by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College.

Neil Thomas, a specialist in cardiovascular disease epidemiology at the University of Birmingham who will jointly lead the research, said that around one-third of people with atrial fibrillation do not know they have the condition.

He said that the risk of stroke in atrial fibrillation patients can be lessened by two-thirds if they are given drugs that prevent blood clotting. However, under-treatment is common.

"This leads to missed opportunities in preventing fatal and disabling strokes," Thomas said.

While the causes of atrial fibrillation are not well understood, research has shown the condition disproportionately affects certain people including the elderly, heavy smokers and drinkers, and people suffering from diabetes or high blood pressure.

The research will be jointly led by Gregory Lip, who is an expert in atrial fibrillation and has led cardiovascular studies at the University of Birmingham, and two hospitals in China.

Lip said the University of Birmingham has already successfully led changes in atrial fibrillation management in the UK, as well as other European countries with different healthcare systems, by promoting stroke risk assessment and enabling clinicians to initiate treatment.

"Given the importance of this need, we plan to support our partners in China, Brazil and Sri Lanka to develop tailored research to improve the treatment and management of this condition in these countries," he added.

The team will launch two pilot research projects in each country, and will develop known effective methods to increase awareness and treatment of atrial fibrillation.

On-the-ground training will be designed and delivered and the team will engage with major stakeholders to develop sustainable models of best care practice, according to the NIHR.

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