Major improvements are needed in the treatment of a common irregular heartbeat to avoid a stroke epidemic, according to a report.
Some 12,000 strokes in the UK each year are a direct result of atrial fibrillation (AF), the most common sustained heart rhythm disorder, says the study by the Atrial Fibrillation Association (AFA) and AntiCoagulation Europe UK (Ace UK).
The condition increases the risk of stroke by nearly 500%, it adds.
Many of these strokes could be prevented with more use of anticoagulation therapy, the report says.
Despite widespread availability of these treatments, only 18% of AF patients who could benefit from anticoagulation receive adequate therapy, it adds.
AF is responsible for 45% of embolic strokes (the most common kind, caused by blood clots). It is also responsible for strokes which are more severe and lead to greater disability, increase the risk of a further stroke and are more expensive for the NHS.
The report calls for the introduction of a targeted programme of routine manual pulse checks by GPs, and a major public and patient educational programme to improve detection and diagnosis.
It also urges equal access to AF treatments and services, regardless of location, and Government-supported research into the causes, prevention and treatment of the condition.
AFA chief executive and founder Trudie Lobban said:�"Given the high burden and the high rate of under-treatment, we also today launch www.afstrokerisk.org which enables anyone with AF to answer a simple set of questions which generate a comprehensive report on their personal stroke risk. We urge anyone with AF to use this new tool."