New data highlights the growing impact of key risk factor for stroke in Australia

New data, released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has highlighted the growing impact of atrial fibrillation, a key risk factor for stroke, in Australia.

Atrial fibrillation or AF for short is an irregular heartbeat. It can be difficult to detect and it affects more than 500,000 Australians.

The AIHW data revealed more people are being hospitalized with the condition and death rates have also risen (from 0.6 percent in 2001 to 1.4 percent in 2018).

Stroke Foundation Clinical Council Chair Professor Bruce Campbell said, on average, people with AF are five times more likely to have a stroke compared with people who do not have AF.

Men and women can develop AF at any age, however the risk of developing AF does increase significantly as we get older. If left untreated or poorly managed, AF can lead to serious health complications. These can include stroke and heart failure. But, AF can be treated and your doctor is best placed to advise of your risk, diagnosis and treatment options."

Professor Bruce Campbell, Clinical Council Chair, Stroke Foundation

Caloundra grandmother Kay Macklin is among the Australians living with AF.

To mark Global AF Awareness Week (November 16-22), Kay is urging people to have regular pulse and heart checks and to treat the condition seriously.

I am incredibly lucky I was actually in hospital at the time of my stroke. I had no idea I was living with a key risk factor for stroke and I hate to think of what could have happened if I was at home alone instead. But I have made a good recovery and I am now able to take the right steps to manage my condition and enjoy my retirement.”

Kay Macklin, Caloundra grandmother

Professor Campbell added discovering you have AF and managing it properly could save your life.

More information here.


  • AF affects approximately 2% of the general population (more than 500,000 people).
  • The proportion of people affected increases with age. An estimated 5% of the Australian population aged 55 and over have AF.
  • In 2017–18, there were over 72,000 hospitalizations in Australia with AF (1.5 times as high for males than females).
  • Between 2000–01 and 2017–18, the age-standardized rate of hospitalizations with a principal diagnosis of AF increased by 42%.
  • In 2018, AF was the underlying cause of 2,235 deaths in Australia—1.4% of total deaths, up from 0.6% in 2001.
  • From 2016–2018, after adjusting for differences in the age structures between the populations, the death rate from AF among Indigenous Australians is 1.4 times as high as non-Indigenous Australians.
  • From 2016–2018, AF death rates were 1.4 times as high in the lowest socioeconomic group compared with the highest socioeconomic group.

Kay's story

Kay Macklin was 60 and had just moved from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast to enjoy her retirement when she suffered a stroke.

Kay had been in her new home for less than a month and there were still a few boxes to unpack when she started feeling ill. Kay couldn't put her finger on what was wrong, but knew she was not herself.

On the insistence of her daughter, Kay went to her local doctor and was told to go to hospital because she had a chest infection. Not long after arriving at the hospital Kay had a stroke.

Kay's daughter Melanie noticed something was not right when she arrived at the hospital with a change of clothes for her mum. When Melanie saw Kay, she questioned whether she'd been given sleeping tablets because she was vague and incoherent.

Melanie alerted the doctors and a team of five burst in and swarmed around Kay. The hospital care team was quick to act, sending Kay for a brain scan, diagnosing her stroke and then transferring Kay to a larger hospital with specialist stroke services.

The cause of Kay's stroke was AF. For Kay, the AF seemed to pop up out of nowhere when in reality, she may have been living with the condition for years without knowing.

Fortunately for Kay, she was in the right place when she had a stroke and was treated quickly, halting the damage to her brain.

Kay regained movement in her hands and fingers within two days and was able to walk again, albeit with some limitations, within a week. She later had a pacemaker inserted to help regulate her heartbeat.

Kay said she was now enjoying her retirement with those she loves most.

"I often wonder what would have happened if I was home alone instead of in hospital when I had my stroke. I feel fortunate to have made a great recovery."


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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