Thousands of people in the UK could be at risk of stroke because of low public awareness of atrial fibrillation (AF), an irregular heartbeat, one of the major risk factors.
A poll of more than 1,000 people and 1,000 GPs by the charity The Stroke Association found that more than two-thirds of the public were unable to identify the symptoms of AF as a possible warning sign of a future stroke.
AF is one of the most common heart-rhythm disturbances encountered by doctors, affecting approximately 750,000 people in the UK alone, the charity has estimated.
Yet, at the same time, more than eight out of 10 GPs questioned in the study confirmed that problems existed with the diagnosis, treatment and management of AF in the UK, leaving many people potentially at risk of stroke.
Almost four out of every 10 GPs identified a lack of public awareness of the condition as a significant contributor to the problems that ultimately surround its diagnosis and treatment.
More than half also believed that such problems stemmed from the associated risks of using anticoagulants such as warfarin, which are used to treat patients with AF.
Although three-quarters of the GPs acknowledged that stroke was a major consequence of AF, only 40% said that they would treat patients with warfarin.
The most common symptom of AF is a fast and irregular heartbeat, usually more than 140 beats per minute. However, other symptoms of the heart disorder include palpitations, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, light headedness, fainting or fatigue.
Steve Benveniste, campaigns officer at The Stroke Association, says: "Atrial fibrillation is a major risk factor for stroke. It accounts for 14% of all strokes and 12,500 strokes a year are thought to be directly linked to the condition.
"Many people may not recognise the symptoms of atrial fibrillation as a serious health problem, which results in them not being diagnosed and leaving them at risk of stroke."