Many of those who are genetically predisposed to develop atrial fibrillation, which dramatically raises the risk of stroke, can be identified with a blood test. This has just been shown by new research from Lund University in Sweden. The number of people affected by atrial fibrillation is rising rapidly, partly as a result of the aging population. Over recent years, a research group at Lund University in Sweden, working with other universities and hospitals in Europe and the United States, has identified twelve genetic variants in the human genome that increase the risk of atrial fibrillation. The research group has now studied the possible clinical benefits of a DNA test: "One in five people has a genetic weakness that means they have twice as high a risk of developing atrial fibrillation as those with a low genetic risk. This genetic risk is therefore one of the strongest risk factors for atrial fibrillation that we know of in people without overt cardiac disease. It increases the risk as much as high blood pressure, for example," said Dr. Olle Melander, Professor of Internal Medicine, and Dr. Gustav Smith, Associate Professor in Cardiology, both from Lund University. Because the symptoms of atrial flutter can be weak and unclear, they are sometimes difficult to pick up. However, even those with weak or absent symptoms of atrial flutter are at significantly higher risk of stroke. "In patients who are suspected of having temporary, but recurrent, episodes of atrial fibrillation, or in people with high blood pressure, it can be important for doctors to look at their genetic predisposition using a blood test. The test can give guidance as to how often and how intensively doctors need to screen for presence of atrial fibrillation in these individuals.
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