Background: Anticoagulants are effective in the prevention of stroke in atrial fibrillation and flutter (AF). We aimed to find out the prevalence of AF in the UK and to estimate the proportion of patients with AF who might benefit from anticoagulation.
Methods: We screened with electrocardiography a random sample of 4843 people from the community aged 65 years and older for AF. Participants with AF had further investigations to identify risk factors for stroke and contraindications to anticoagulants. We used three sets of criteria to assess risk and eligibility for anticoagulation.
Findings: 228 (4.7%) participants had AF. According to analyses derived from risk stratifications based on the Stroke Prevention in Atrial Fibrillation (SPAF) study 61% of these patients would have benefited from anticoagulation, 49% according to pooled analysis of trial results, and 41% according to the inclusion criteria for the SPAF 3 study. Anticoagulants were used by 1114 (23%) of all patients and were least used among elderly women, who may be the most likely to benefit. Echocardiography would be useful to assess the need for anticoagulation only in patients younger than 75 years with no contraindications to treatment and no clinical risk factors for stroke.
Interpretation: Anticoagulants seem to be underused and misdirected in treatment of AF, according to various criteria. Efforts to promote and support wider and more appropriate use of anticoagulants would seem to be justified, and should decrease the incidence of stroke amongst elderly patients.