06/10/2016 08:38 BST | Updated 05/10/2017 06:12 BST

The Next Step On The Road To Heart Health

On Monday 3 October the World Heart Federation launched a new Roadmap aimed at tackling Non-Valvular Atrial Fibrillation (AF), the most common and clinically significant form of cardiac arrhythmia. This is the fifth in a series of Roadmaps we've launched tackling some of the biggest public health challenges we face as a society.

This latest initiative aims to help prevent AF and to improve its management worldwide, and comes as new figures show the number of people with AF continues to rise. We're also committed to support prioritization of AF in the WHO Global Action Plan for Noncommunicable Diseases, so that policies and programmes can align across the globe.

Between 1990 and 2013 the overall number of diagnosed cases of AF globally increased by more than half, from below 7m to just over 11m. More worryingly, it's likely that these figures are an underestimate of the true scale of AF, because AF is often asymptomatic so a large number of people do not know they have the condition.

However, undetected AF increases the risk and severity of stroke and heart failure, and so can pose a significant risk to human life as well as placing a burden on healthcare systems and economies across the world. This is especially relevant in low and middle income countries where research suggests patients tend to be younger and more likely to experience heart failure.

It's not all bad news though. There is strong evidence that early detection and treatment of AF can reduce morbidity and mortality. Our Roadmap is designed to provide practical information on how to do this for health professionals, NGOs, governments, health activists and academics.

The Roadmap also identifies barriers (or roadblocks) to making changes and solutions for overcoming these barriers, such as:

• Improving accessibility and availability of screening, especially for rural popula-tions

• Improving the affordability of oral anticoagulants (OACs)

• Reducing dependence on highly trained medical staff for AF management

• Improving capacity for management of OACs therapy among patients

• Strengthening Health Information Systems.

Atrial fibrillation is a condition that is firmly within our power to address. But it is not our only focus. Our AF Roadmap is part of a wider initiative supporting the World Health Organization's (WHO) Global Action Plan Targets, which aim to reduce premature deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 25% by 2025.

We have already published other Roadmaps focusing on secondary prevention, tobacco control, hypertension and RHD - and these are now in the implementation phase. Ultimately, these are part of broader efforts to reduce the impact of cardiovascular disease (CVD), currently the world's number one killer. It is responsible for 17.5 million deaths per year, and by 2030 this is predicted to rise to nearly 23 million.

While we do need those involved in designing our health systems to take action, there are also steps that we can all take as individuals to improve our heart health. Making simple changes such as quitting smoking, getting more active, eating healthily and reducing harmful use of alcohol can all make a big difference. And if you are worried that you might be at risk I would recommend getting checked by a health professional who can measure your blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI and advise you on what to do next, to put you on the road to good heart health!