Fear Factor: New Survey Reveals that One Quarter of Ontarians Say Surviving a Stroke Would Be Worse Than Dying

Stroke Survivors Association of Ottawa urging Ontarians to learn about a serious heart condition called atrial fibrillation - and how to prevent it causing the most severe and debilitating type of stroke

TORONTO, January 23, 2012 /Canada NewsWire/ - According to a new Stroke Survivors of Ottawa Survey, conducted by L├ęger Marketing, a quarter of Ontarians say surviving a stroke would be worse than dying and more than a third (34 per cent), would rather lose a limb than suffer the effects of a stroke. However, while Ontarians are fearful of the consequences of a stroke, the majority are unfamiliar with the basic facts of atrial fibrillation or AF - a common and serious heart condition that can lead to the most severe and debilitating types of stroke. What's more, 71 per cent of Ontarians falsely believe that AF is tied to an increased risk of heart attack while only 40 per cent understand its connection to stroke.

There are approximately 100,000 Ontarians living with AF, which causes the heart to beat irregularly. After the age of 55, the incidence of AF doubles with each decade of life. People with AF are three to five times more at risk of having a stroke than those without AF, and they are twice as likely to die from one. For those who survive a stroke, the disabilities can be significant and can include paralysis; loss of speech and understanding; and effects on the memory, thought and emotional processes. Currently, AF costs the Ontario health care system approximately $700 million annually.

"Ontarians are right to be frightened by the effects of a stroke - but what concerns me more is the wide-spread lack of awareness about conditions like AF, and thereby the lack of action people are taking to protect themselves from the strokes it can cause," says Janet McTaggart, Executive Director of the Stroke Survivors Association of Ottawa.

Bruce Ryder knows all too well how easy it can be to live with AF and not even know it. He was diagnosed with AF four years ago after passing out at a party.

"Prior to my AF diagnosis, I had never heard of atrial fibrillation, much less knew about its connection to stroke," says Ryder. "Thinking about what could have happened had I not discovered my AF and started treatment is positively frightening to me. I was just living with AF and didn't even realize it - I had no symptoms. That is why you need to raise this with your physician and get them to check your heart rhythm. Not everyone will be as lucky as me."

The survey also revealed that more than 70 per cent of Ontarians do not know how to prevent an AF-related stroke. To help bridge that knowledge gap and raise awareness of AF, a new website has been developed: www.StrokeAndAF.ca. Visitors can not only learn the facts about AF, but they can also find questions to ask their doctor, tips on living with AF, and suggestions for caregivers.

"Ontarians are fearful of stroke, yet many admit they're unfamiliar with its link to AF - a condition that can lead to one of the most severe and debilitating types of stroke," says Dr. Richard Tytus, Associate Clinical Professor of Family Medicine, McMaster University. "Our goal is to educate Ontarians about AF and the consequences of an AF-related stroke, so that they take action by speaking with their doctor. Once people understand their risk, they can then work with their doctor to take the necessary steps to protect themselves."

A White Paper entitled Reconnecting the Pieces to Optimize Care in Atrial Fibrillation was recently published by the Centre for Innovation and Complex Care at the University Health Network. It provides a comprehensive review of the gaps of AF care in Ontario, the challenges for patients, and the costs to the health care system.

"Atrial fibrillation and stroke are putting enormous financial pressures on our health care system that we cannot afford," says Dr. Dante Morra, Medical Director, Centre for Innovation and Complex Care at the University Health Network. "Our population is aging at an alarming rate, but with a combination of some system restructuring and better disease prevention, we can get it under control and provide great care to Ontarians."

According to the survey, Ontarians have an appreciation for the impact a severe stroke could potentially have on their lives. In fact seven in 10 Ontarians fear losing their independence due to stroke and more than six in 10 fear losing their mobility (66 per cent), not fully recovering from a stroke (65 per cent), losing their speech/ability to communicate (64 per cent) and being a burden on their family (63 per cent).

"If we get more people to take action and protect themselves from stroke, hopefully we can reduce the number of stroke survivors that need our assistance. Raising awareness about AF is an important first step," says McTaggart.

About Stroke in Canada

In Canada, stroke is the leading cause of adult disability and the third leading cause of death with up to 15 per cent of strokes being caused by AF. The health care costs for patients in the first six months after a stroke totals more than $2.5 billion a year, with direct and indirect costs for each patient averaging $50,000 in the first six months following a stroke. People with non-disabling strokes spend up to $24,000 during the first six months and the costs for families can increase to over $100,000 for the most severely affected.7 Examples of stroke-related expenses to families include caregiving, transportation and lost income.

About Stroke Survivors Association of Ottawa

Stroke Survivors Association of Ottawa (SSAO) provides stroke survivors, their families, caregivers, professionals and the general public with a wide variety of support services, community re-engagement, advocacy, education and other programs. As well, SSAO has connections to many Ottawa and surrounding area stroke supports.