Canadians missing the beat on heart health



    
    Survey shows most Canadians unaware of atrial fibrillation;
    a heart condition with serious health consequences
    

    MONTREAL, May 25 /CNW/ - Results of a recent Leger Marketing survey
announced today reveal that the majority of Canadians do not recognize that
atrial fibrillation is a heart-related illness. On an unaided basis, only two
per cent of the 4,274 respondents polled were able to link this condition to
heart disease. When shown or read a list of heart diseases, fewer than half of
the respondents (40 per cent) were able to make the link, even though atrial
fibrillation affects nearly a quarter of a million Canadians who could
potentially end up in hospital with strokes, congestive heart failure and
other heart-related problems. The results were similar in British Columbia,
with two per cent making the link on an unaided basis and 46 per cent making
the link on an aided basis.
    While awareness of this condition is low, 54 per cent of respondents
nationally and 53 per cent in British Columbia, reported having symptoms that
could be associated with atrial fibrillation. This is particularly relevant
for those 65 and over, the population at highest risk. In the survey, 23 per
cent of British Columbians mentioned having experienced a "racing,
uncomfortable, irregular heart beat" while another eight per cent reported
experiencing a "flopping" feeling in the chest.
    "There are many causes for heart palpitations and, in the majority of
cases, it doesn't mean that people have atrial fibrillation", said Vancouver's
Dr. Charles Kerr, Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, University of
British Columbia, who points out that atrial fibrillation currently affects
six percent of those over 65. "In fact, the majority of palpitations are due
to abnormal heart rhythms that are benign and of little or no risk.
Nevertheless, it's important that we raise public awareness about this issue
because atrial fibrillation is a common condition that is likely to affect
more and more baby-boomers who will be entering their sixties and seventies
soon. If left unchecked, it can have serious health consequences, the most
important of which is stroke," he said.

    Recognizing the risk factors

    In addition to age, risk factors for atrial fibrillation, an abnormal
heart rhythm in which the upper chambers of the heart beat in a wildly erratic
manner, include disease of heart valves, heart failure, high blood pressure
and excess weight. While heart valve disease and heart failure are less common
in the general population, excess weight and high blood pressure are
prevalent. In the survey, 29 per cent reported they were overweight and 21 per
cent reported having high blood pressure. In British Columbia, the percentages
were slightly lower at 25 per cent and 16 per cent respectively. While Dr.
Kerr emphasizes that having these risk factors does not automatically mean
that people will develop atrial fibrillation, he does state that the chances
of developing this condition increase exponentially with each passing decade.

    Recognizing the symptoms

    Although 46 per cent of British Columbians (40 per cent nationally)
initially indicated an awareness of atrial fibrillation, once the condition
was described to them, more than half (56 per cent compared with 54 per cent
nationally) could not name any symptoms associated with it. On an unaided
basis, only three per cent of the respondents (five per cent nationally) who
reported they were aware of atrial fibrillation mentioned heart palpitations,
even though this is the most common symptom associated with this condition.
When aided, however, 62 per cent of this group (65 per cent nationally)
identified a "racing, uncomfortable, irregular heartbeat", while another 38
per cent (same percentage nationally) identified a 'flopping' feeling in the
chest.
    "Symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Some patients can be
completely disabled while others can be completely asymptomatic. Many find
themselves in between the two extremes, said Dr. Kerr. "The most common
symptoms tend to be heart palpitations and shortness of breath, with
dizziness, fatigue and chest pain being less common."

    Quality of life out of sync

    In addition to the serious heart health consequences that may result from
having atrial fibrillation, there are also quality of life issues that can
have an effect on a patient's daily life. For those who experience some of the
more debilitating symptoms of atrial fibrillation - including dizziness and
chest pain - seemingly simple tasks can become nearly impossible.
    Of the 115 Canadians who reported that they had personally been diagnosed
with atrial fibrillation, close to half (46 per cent) stated that this
condition has a negative impact on their daily activities.
    As the survey reveals, atrial fibrillation's negative impact can also be
felt by family members who can find themselves in a caregiver role. Of the 524
Canadians who reported that a family member had been diagnosed with atrial
fibrillation, more than half (56 per cent) said the condition negatively
impacted their loved ones' daily activities, indicating they may be sharing in
the distress experienced by those who have debilitating symptoms.

    Keep the rhythm: Talk to your doctor

    While the majority of British Columbians (84 per cent compared with 83
per cent nationally) say their family physician would be their number one
source for information on atrial fibrillation, only 56 per cent of undiagnosed
respondents who had experienced one or more symptoms associated with this
condition actually spoke with their family doctor about their symptoms. The
majority of those who did report their symptoms to their doctor said that this
led to an electrocardiogram, the most common diagnostic test for atrial
fibrillation.
    Beyond health care professionals, with family physicians being a clear
favourite (84 per cent), British Columbians reported that they would also seek
information about atrial fibrillation from other channels. Close to seven in
10 said they would consult some form of media, the most popular choice being
the Internet (61 per cent).
    According to Heart & Stroke, the most important thing individuals can do
is to speak to their healthcare professional if they believe they may be at
risk. They can also consult their Web site at www.heartandstroke.ca for more
information on this condition.

    About atrial fibrillation

    Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of arrhythmia that can cause
many symptoms including heart palpitations, shortness of breath and fatigue,
and raise the risk for more serious heart problems. It increases the risk of
mortality two-fold, the risk of heart failure by two to three-fold, and the
risk of stroke by up to five-fold. It is estimated that up to 15 per cent of
all strokes are due to atrial fibrillation. The condition is more frequent in
men than in women across all age groups.

    About the survey

    The survey, commissioned by sanofi-aventis Canada Inc., was conducted by
Leger Marketing using a hybrid approach of both telephone and online
interviews. A total of 4,274 adults were polled: 2,743 completed the online
survey using Leger Marketing's Web panel while another 1,531 answered the
telephone survey. With a sample of this size, results are considered accurate
to within +/-1.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been
had the entire adult population been polled. The margin of error is higher for
specific sub-groups within the survey population. These data are weighted to
ensure that the sample's age/sex composition reflects that of the actual adult
population in each city according to Census data.

    About sanofi-aventis

    Sanofi-aventis, a leading global pharmaceutical company, discovers,
develops and distributes therapeutic solutions to improve the lives of
everyone. Sanofi-aventis is listed in Paris (EURONEXT : SAN) and in New York
(NYSE : SNY).
    Sanofi-aventis is represented in Canada by the pharmaceutical company
sanofi-aventis Canada Inc., based in Laval, Quebec, and by the vaccines
company Sanofi Pasteur Limited, based in Toronto, Ontario. Together they
employ more than 2,000 people and are leaders in Canada's biopharmaceutical
sector, a critical research-based industry that generates jobs, business and
opportunity throughout the country.




For further information:

For further information: Valerie Cameron, MS&L, (416) 847-1320; Dave
Scholz, Vice-President, Leger Marketing, (416) 815-0330

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