Canadians missing the beat on heart health

         Survey shows most Canadians unaware of atrial fibrillation;
                 a heart condition with serious 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 Ontario, with two
per cent making the link on an unaided basis and 42 per cent making the link
on an aided basis.
    While awareness of this condition is low, 54 per cent of respondents
nationally and 51 per cent in Ontario, 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
Ontarians mentioned having experienced a "racing, uncomfortable, irregular
heart beat" while another 10 per cent reported experiencing a "flopping"
feeling in the chest.
    "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," said
Dr. Paul Dorian, Division of Cardiology, St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto,
who points out that atrial fibrillation currently affects six per cent of
those over 65. "If left unchecked, it can have serious heart 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 Ontario, the percentages were
similar at 28 per cent and 20 per cent respectively. While Dr. Dorian explains
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.
    "Canadians should not hesitate to speak with their physician about their
symptoms or if they have a medical history that puts them at increased risk,"
he said.

    Recognizing the symptoms

    Although 42 per cent of Ontarians (40 per cent nationally) initially
indicated an awareness of atrial fibrillation, once the condition was
described to them, more than half (51 per cent compared with 54 per cent
nationally) could not name any symptoms associated with it. On an unaided
basis, only five 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, 65 per cent of this group (65 per cent nationally)
identified a "racing, uncomfortable, irregular heartbeat", while another 36
per cent (38 per cent nationally) identified a 'flopping' feeling in the

    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 many of the
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 Ontarians (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
    Beyond health care professionals, with family physicians being a clear
favourite (84 per cent), Ontarians reported that they would also seek
information about atrial fibrillation from other channels. Six 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 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, 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
    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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