, Volume 32, Issue 11, pp 771-777,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 22 Sep 2012

Diagnosis and Management of Atrial Fibrillation by Primary Care Physicians in Italy



Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common cardiac arrhythmia and is associated with a heavy burden of morbidity and mortality, mainly due to an increased risk of cerebrovascular events and cardiac failure. Oral anticoagulant (OAC) treatment prevents stroke and systemic thromboembolism in patients with AF and its use is strongly recommended in guidelines. However, its use in this patient group remains limited. Primary care physicians (PCPs) have an important role to play in this context.


The primary objective was to estimate prevalence and epidemiological features of AF in the primary care setting, focusing on ischaemic and bleeding risk assessment. A secondary objective was to examine the PCPs’ level of adherence to the guidelines for the prevention of thromboembolic risk in these patients.


This retrospective, observational study was based on data entered by 128 PCPs into the Health Search (HS) Thales database, identifying patients with a diagnosis of AF at the time of the analysis.


Out of 167,056 patients analysed, 2,173 (1.3 %) were diagnosed with AF, with 86 % at high risk for ischaemic stroke, according to CHA2DS2-VASc (congestive heart failure, hypertension, age ≥75 years [doubled], diabetes, stroke [doubled], vascular disease, age 65–74 years, sex category [female]) stratification. After the diagnosis of AF, 84 % of patients were prescribed OAC treatment. However, at 2 years’ follow-up, only 29.6 % were still being treated with OACs.


The prevalence of AF in this analysis was consistent with previously reported Italian national epidemiological data. Adherence to the European Society of Cardiology AF guidelines by PCPs was low, despite the high levels of stroke risk. At the end of the observation period less than one-third of patients were still on OAC therapy. Awareness of the benefits of OACs in stroke prevention in AF patients needs to be improved.