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Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (AF or Afib) is a supraventricular tachyarrhythmia Tachyarrhythmia A tachyarrhythmia is a rapid heart rhythm, regular or irregular, with a rate > 100 beats/min. Tachyarrhythmia may or may not be accompanied by symptoms of hemodynamic change. Tachyarrhythmias and the most common kind of arrhythmia. It is caused by rapid, uncontrolled atrial contractions and uncoordinated ventricular responses. There are many conditions that can cause AF, usually damage to the heart (e.g., coronary artery disease Coronary artery disease Pathological processes of coronary arteries that may derive from a congenital abnormality, atherosclerotic, or non-atherosclerotic cause. Stable and Unstable Angina, previous myocardial infarction Myocardial infarction MI is ischemia and death of an area of myocardial tissue due to insufficient blood flow and oxygenation, usually from thrombus formation on a ruptured atherosclerotic plaque in the epicardial arteries. Clinical presentation is most commonly with chest pain, but women and patients with diabetes may have atypical symptoms. Myocardial Infarction). Diagnosis is confirmed by an electrocardiogram Electrocardiogram An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a graphic representation of the electrical activity of the heart plotted against time. Adhesive electrodes are affixed to the skin surface allowing measurement of cardiac impulses from many angles. The ECG provides 3-dimensional information about the conduction system of the heart, the myocardium, and other cardiac structures. Electrocardiogram (ECG) that will show an “irregularly irregular” heartbeat with no distinct P waves and narrow QRS complexes. AF increases the risk of thromboembolic events. Treatment is primarily based on ventricular rate and rhythm control, which can be achieved through drugs and/or cardioversion. Anticoagulation Anticoagulation Pulmonary Hypertension Drugs is administered if the patient is at significant risk for thromboembolic events.

Last updated: 7 Apr, 2022

Editorial responsibility: Stanley Oiseth, Lindsay Jones, Evelin Maza

Epidemiology and Etiology

Epidemiology

  • Most common form of cardiac Cardiac Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) arrhythmia
  • Incidence Incidence The number of new cases of a given disease during a given period in a specified population. It also is used for the rate at which new events occur in a defined population. It is differentiated from prevalence, which refers to all cases in the population at a given time. Measures of Disease Frequency increases with age
  • 70% of patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship with atrial fibrillation (AF) are > 65 years old
  • More common in men (but if affected, women are more likely to be symptomatic and develop complications)
  • More common in Caucasians Caucasians Esophageal Cancer than African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians

General risk factors for cardiovascular disease

  • Advanced age
  • Hypertension Hypertension Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common disease that manifests as elevated systemic arterial pressures. Hypertension is most often asymptomatic and is found incidentally as part of a routine physical examination or during triage for an unrelated medical encounter. Hypertension
  • Diabetes mellitus Diabetes mellitus Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a metabolic disease characterized by hyperglycemia and dysfunction of the regulation of glucose metabolism by insulin. Type 1 DM is diagnosed mostly in children and young adults as the result of autoimmune destruction of β cells in the pancreas and the resulting lack of insulin. Type 2 DM has a significant association with obesity and is characterized by insulin resistance. Diabetes Mellitus
  • Smoking Smoking Willful or deliberate act of inhaling and exhaling smoke from burning substances or agents held by hand. Interstitial Lung Diseases
  • Obesity Obesity Obesity is a condition associated with excess body weight, specifically with the deposition of excessive adipose tissue. Obesity is considered a global epidemic. Major influences come from the western diet and sedentary lifestyles, but the exact mechanisms likely include a mixture of genetic and environmental factors. Obesity
  • Sleep Sleep A readily reversible suspension of sensorimotor interaction with the environment, usually associated with recumbency and immobility. Physiology of Sleep apnea

Risk factors for AF

  • Usually associated with some underlying heart disease
  • Most common chronic disease associations are hypertensive heart disease and coronary heart disease Coronary heart disease Coronary heart disease (CHD), or ischemic heart disease, describes a situation in which an inadequate supply of blood to the myocardium exists due to a stenosis of the coronary arteries, typically from atherosclerosis. Coronary Heart Disease
  • 15%–30% of cases are idiopathic Idiopathic Dermatomyositis or not associated with any known risk factor
Cardiac Cardiac Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) risk factors Non- cardiac Cardiac Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) risk factors
  • Myocardial infarction Myocardial infarction MI is ischemia and death of an area of myocardial tissue due to insufficient blood flow and oxygenation, usually from thrombus formation on a ruptured atherosclerotic plaque in the epicardial arteries. Clinical presentation is most commonly with chest pain, but women and patients with diabetes may have atypical symptoms. Myocardial Infarction
  • Coronary artery disease Coronary artery disease Pathological processes of coronary arteries that may derive from a congenital abnormality, atherosclerotic, or non-atherosclerotic cause. Stable and Unstable Angina
  • Congestive heart failure Congestive heart failure Congestive heart failure refers to the inability of the heart to supply the body with normal cardiac output to meet metabolic needs. Echocardiography can confirm the diagnosis and give information about the ejection fraction. Congestive Heart Failure
  • Cardiomyopathy Cardiomyopathy Cardiomyopathy refers to a group of myocardial diseases associated with structural changes of the heart muscles (myocardium) and impaired systolic and/or diastolic function in the absence of other heart disorders (coronary artery disease, hypertension, valvular disease, and congenital heart disease). Cardiomyopathy: Overview and Types (specifically hypertrophic)
  • Other arrhythmias
  • Valvular heart disease
  • Congenital Congenital Chorioretinitis heart disease
  • Myocarditis Myocarditis Myocarditis is an inflammatory disease of the myocardium, which may occur alone or in association with a systemic process. There are numerous etiologies of myocarditis, but all lead to inflammation and myocyte injury, most often leading to signs and symptoms of heart failure. Myocarditis
  • Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome A form of ventricular pre-excitation characterized by a short PR interval and a long QRS interval with a delta wave. In this syndrome, atrial impulses are abnormally conducted to the heart ventricles via an accessory conducting pathway that is located between the wall of the right or left atria and the ventricles, also known as a bundle of kent. The inherited form can be caused by mutation of prkag2 gene encoding a gamma-2 regulatory subunit of amp-activated protein kinase. Supraventricular Tachycardias (WPW)
  • Electrolyte disturbances (e.g., hypokalemia Hypokalemia Hypokalemia is defined as plasma potassium (K+) concentration < 3.5 mEq/L. Homeostatic mechanisms maintain plasma concentration between 3.5-5.2 mEq/L despite marked variation in dietary intake. Hypokalemia can be due to renal losses, GI losses, transcellular shifts, or poor dietary intake. Hypokalemia)
  • Drugs (e.g., theophylline Theophylline A methyl xanthine derivative from tea with diuretic, smooth muscle relaxant, bronchial dilation, cardiac and central nervous system stimulant activities. Theophylline inhibits the 3. Asthma Drugs, adenosine Adenosine A nucleoside that is composed of adenine and d-ribose. Adenosine or adenosine derivatives play many important biological roles in addition to being components of DNA and RNA. Adenosine itself is a neurotransmitter. Class 5 Antiarrhythmic Drugs, digoxin Digoxin A cardiotonic glycoside obtained mainly from digitalis lanata; it consists of three sugars and the aglycone digoxigenin. Digoxin has positive inotropic and negative chronotropic activity. It is used to control ventricular rate in atrial fibrillation and in the management of congestive heart failure with atrial fibrillation. Its use in congestive heart failure and sinus rhythm is less certain. The margin between toxic and therapeutic doses is small. Cardiac Glycosides)
  • Surgery (e.g., coronary artery Coronary Artery Truncus Arteriosus bypass grafting, valvular repair)
  • Hyperthyroidism Hyperthyroidism Hypersecretion of thyroid hormones from the thyroid gland. Elevated levels of thyroid hormones increase basal metabolic rate. Thyrotoxicosis and Hyperthyroidism
  • Hypothermia Hypothermia Hypothermia can be defined as a drop in the core body temperature below 35°C (95°F) and is classified into mild, moderate, severe, and profound forms based on the degree of temperature decrease. Hypothermia
  • Pulmonary causes: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease characterized by progressive, largely irreversible airflow obstruction. The condition usually presents in middle-aged or elderly persons with a history of cigarette smoking. Signs and symptoms include prolonged expiration, wheezing, diminished breath sounds, progressive dyspnea, and chronic cough. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) ( COPD COPD Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease characterized by progressive, largely irreversible airflow obstruction. The condition usually presents in middle-aged or elderly persons with a history of cigarette smoking. Signs and symptoms include prolonged expiration, wheezing, diminished breath sounds, progressive dyspnea, and chronic cough. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)), pulmonary embolism Pulmonary Embolism Pulmonary embolism (PE) is a potentially fatal condition that occurs as a result of intraluminal obstruction of the main pulmonary artery or its branches. The causative factors include thrombi, air, amniotic fluid, and fat. In PE, gas exchange is impaired due to the decreased return of deoxygenated blood to the lungs. Pulmonary Embolism
  • Chronic kidney disease Chronic Kidney Disease Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is kidney impairment that lasts for ≥ 3 months, implying that it is irreversible. Hypertension and diabetes are the most common causes; however, there are a multitude of other etiologies. In the early to moderate stages, CKD is usually asymptomatic and is primarily diagnosed by laboratory abnormalities. Chronic Kidney Disease
  • Excessive sympathetic stimulation:
    • Pheochromocytoma Pheochromocytoma Pheochromocytoma is a catecholamine-secreting tumor derived from chromaffin cells. The majority of tumors originate in the adrenal medulla, but they may also arise from sympathetic ganglia (also referred to as paraganglioma). Symptoms are associated with excessive catecholamine production and commonly include hypertension, tachycardia, headache, and sweating. Pheochromocytoma
    • Cocaine Cocaine An alkaloid ester extracted from the leaves of plants including coca. It is a local anesthetic and vasoconstrictor and is clinically used for that purpose, particularly in the eye, ear, nose, and throat. It also has powerful central nervous system effects similar to the amphetamines and is a drug of abuse. Cocaine, like amphetamines, acts by multiple mechanisms on brain catecholaminergic neurons; the mechanism of its reinforcing effects is thought to involve inhibition of dopamine uptake. Local Anesthetics or amphetamines Amphetamines Analogs or derivatives of amphetamine. Many are sympathomimetics and central nervous system stimulators causing excitation, vasopressin, bronchodilation, and to varying degrees, anorexia, analepsis, nasal decongestion, and some smooth muscle relaxation. Stimulants
    • Sepsis Sepsis Systemic inflammatory response syndrome with a proven or suspected infectious etiology. When sepsis is associated with organ dysfunction distant from the site of infection, it is called severe sepsis. When sepsis is accompanied by hypotension despite adequate fluid infusion, it is called septic shock. Sepsis and Septic Shock
  • Heavy alcohol use (e.g., holiday heart syndrome)
  • Metabolic syndrome Metabolic syndrome Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that significantly increases the risk for several secondary diseases, notably cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and nonalcoholic fatty liver. In general, it is agreed that hypertension, insulin resistance/hyperglycemia, and hyperlipidemia, along with central obesity, are components of the metabolic syndrome. Metabolic Syndrome
Mnemonic: Etiology of acute AF = PIRATES
P Pulmonary diseases:
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • COPD
  • Pneumonia
I
  • Ischemia (CAD)
  • Infarction ( MI MI MI is ischemia and death of an area of myocardial tissue due to insufficient blood flow and oxygenation, usually from thrombus formation on a ruptured atherosclerotic plaque in the epicardial arteries. Clinical presentation is most commonly with chest pain, but women and patients with diabetes may have atypical symptoms. Myocardial Infarction)
R
  • Rheumatic heart disease
  • Mitral regurgitation
A
  • Anemia
  • Atrial myxoma Myxoma A benign neoplasm derived from connective tissue, consisting chiefly of polyhedral and stellate cells that are loosely embedded in a soft mucoid matrix, thereby resembling primitive mesenchymal tissue. It occurs frequently intramuscularly where it may be mistaken for a sarcoma. It appears also in the jaws and the skin. Cardiac Myxoma
  • Alcohol
T
  • Thyrotoxicosis
  • Toxins
E
  • Ethanol
  • Electrolytes
  • Endocarditis
S
  • Sepsis
  • Sick sinus syndrome

Pathophysiology and Classification

Pathophysiology

  • AF is caused by re-entrant electric conduction.
  • Re-entrant pathways can be due to:
    • Fibrosed tissue
    • Atrial dilation (e.g., congenital Congenital Chorioretinitis defect or post- MI MI MI is ischemia and death of an area of myocardial tissue due to insufficient blood flow and oxygenation, usually from thrombus formation on a ruptured atherosclerotic plaque in the epicardial arteries. Clinical presentation is most commonly with chest pain, but women and patients with diabetes may have atypical symptoms. Myocardial Infarction)
    • Abnormal accessory pathways (e.g., WPW syndrome)
  • Most common site of the rapid atrial firing that triggers Triggers Hereditary Angioedema (C1 Esterase Inhibitor Deficiency) AF is the pulmonary veins Pulmonary veins The veins that return the oxygenated blood from the lungs to the left atrium of the heart. Lungs: Anatomy.
Re-entrant phenomena

The pathophysiology of re-entrant pathways

  1. An ectopic focus Focus Area of enhancement measuring < 5 mm in diameter Imaging of the Breast initiates a cardiac Cardiac Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) action potential Action Potential Abrupt changes in the membrane potential that sweep along the cell membrane of excitable cells in response to excitation stimuli. Membrane Potential, which travels in the form of a unidirectional conduction wave. If a conduction barrier is present (e.g., cardiac Cardiac Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) tissue damaged by ischemia Ischemia A hypoperfusion of the blood through an organ or tissue caused by a pathologic constriction or obstruction of its blood vessels, or an absence of blood circulation. Ischemic Cell Damage), the wave will travel around it.
  2. In healthy tissue, the conductive wave will meet refractory tissue upon completing the circuit.
  3. If the refractory period is shorter than the time it takes the wave to complete the circuit, re-entrant electric conduction may occur.
  4. If the conduction barrier becomes large enough, the conduction wave will meet repolarized tissue and re-entry may occur.
  5. If the conduction wave is slowed down by a damaged section of atrial tissue, re-entry may occur.
Image by Lecturio.
  • Heart rate Heart rate The number of times the heart ventricles contract per unit of time, usually per minute. Cardiac Physiology
    • Atrial rate > 300/min
    • Some beats are irregularly modulated by the atrioventricular (AV) node
    • Ventricular rate = 90–170/min
  • Effects: 
    • Atrial remodeling: irregular impulses and contractions lead to progressive dilation and fibrosis Fibrosis Any pathological condition where fibrous connective tissue invades any organ, usually as a consequence of inflammation or other injury. Bronchiolitis Obliterans of the atria → higher risk for AF → vicious cycle Cycle The type of signal that ends the inspiratory phase delivered by the ventilator Invasive Mechanical Ventilation of pathology 
    • Asynchronous contractility → atria lose systolic function 
    • Rapid uncontrolled atrial contractions ( > 300/min) → slower pass through the AV node → uncoordinated ventricular contractions (90–170/min) → tachycardia Tachycardia Abnormally rapid heartbeat, usually with a heart rate above 100 beats per minute for adults. Tachycardia accompanied by disturbance in the cardiac depolarization (cardiac arrhythmia) is called tachyarrhythmia. Sepsis in Children
    • Decreased cardiac output Cardiac output The volume of blood passing through the heart per unit of time. It is usually expressed as liters (volume) per minute so as not to be confused with stroke volume (volume per beat). Cardiac Mechanics → stasis of blood →  promotes thromboembolism Thromboembolism Obstruction of a blood vessel (embolism) by a blood clot (thrombus) in the blood stream. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
    • Decreased cardiac output Cardiac output The volume of blood passing through the heart per unit of time. It is usually expressed as liters (volume) per minute so as not to be confused with stroke volume (volume per beat). Cardiac Mechanics heart failure Heart Failure A heterogeneous condition in which the heart is unable to pump out sufficient blood to meet the metabolic need of the body. Heart failure can be caused by structural defects, functional abnormalities (ventricular dysfunction), or a sudden overload beyond its capacity. Chronic heart failure is more common than acute heart failure which results from sudden insult to cardiac function, such as myocardial infarction. Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR)

Classification

  • Paroxysmal: AF that starts spontaneously and terminates spontaneously or with intervention within 7 days of onset; episodes may occur with variable frequency
  • Persistent: AF that fails to self-terminate within 7 days, requires pharmacologic or electrical cardioversion to terminate
  • Long-standing persistent: AF that has lasted for more than 12 months
  • Permanent: AF that is unresponsive to treatment, patient and doctor decide to no longer pursue a rhythm control strategy
  • Lone: paroxysmal, persistent, or permanent AF with no structural heart disease, typically in persons < 60 years old, the lowest risk of complications → patients have a CHA2DS2-VASc score of “0”
  • Secondary: due to underlying condition, treatment focuses on the underlying condition to resolve AF
  • Subclinical: AF in asymptomatic individuals without a prior diagnosis of AF, often found in the context of implantable cardiac Cardiac Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) monitoring devices

Clinical Presentation

  • AF is often asymptomatic.
  • If patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship experience symptoms, these are often nonspecific and variable Variable Variables represent information about something that can change. The design of the measurement scales, or of the methods for obtaining information, will determine the data gathered and the characteristics of that data. As a result, a variable can be qualitative or quantitative, and may be further classified into subgroups. Types of Variables.
    • Palpitations Palpitations Ebstein’s Anomaly
    • Tachycardia Tachycardia Abnormally rapid heartbeat, usually with a heart rate above 100 beats per minute for adults. Tachycardia accompanied by disturbance in the cardiac depolarization (cardiac arrhythmia) is called tachyarrhythmia. Sepsis in Children
    • Chest pain Chest Pain Chest pain is one of the most common and challenging complaints that may present in an inpatient and outpatient setting. The differential diagnosis of chest pain is large and includes cardiac, gastrointestinal, pulmonary, musculoskeletal, and psychiatric etiologies. Chest Pain
    • Fatigue Fatigue The state of weariness following a period of exertion, mental or physical, characterized by a decreased capacity for work and reduced efficiency to respond to stimuli. Fibromyalgia
    • Dyspnea Dyspnea Dyspnea is the subjective sensation of breathing discomfort. Dyspnea is a normal manifestation of heavy physical or psychological exertion, but also may be caused by underlying conditions (both pulmonary and extrapulmonary). Dyspnea
    • Syncope Syncope Syncope is a short-term loss of consciousness and loss of postural stability followed by spontaneous return of consciousness to the previous neurologic baseline without the need for resuscitation. The condition is caused by transient interruption of cerebral blood flow that may be benign or related to a underlying life-threatening condition. Syncope
    • Confusion
    • Mild dyspnea Dyspnea Dyspnea is the subjective sensation of breathing discomfort. Dyspnea is a normal manifestation of heavy physical or psychological exertion, but also may be caused by underlying conditions (both pulmonary and extrapulmonary). Dyspnea
    • Embolic event
  • If symptoms are atypical → notice signs of the underlying disorder (e.g., exophthalmos in hyperthyroidism Hyperthyroidism Hypersecretion of thyroid hormones from the thyroid gland. Elevated levels of thyroid hormones increase basal metabolic rate. Thyrotoxicosis and Hyperthyroidism, murmur in the case of a valvular defect)
  • Complications of long-standing AF:
    • Signs of heart failure Heart Failure A heterogeneous condition in which the heart is unable to pump out sufficient blood to meet the metabolic need of the body. Heart failure can be caused by structural defects, functional abnormalities (ventricular dysfunction), or a sudden overload beyond its capacity. Chronic heart failure is more common than acute heart failure which results from sudden insult to cardiac function, such as myocardial infarction. Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) ( pulmonary edema Pulmonary edema Pulmonary edema is a condition caused by excess fluid within the lung parenchyma and alveoli as a consequence of a disease process. Based on etiology, pulmonary edema is classified as cardiogenic or noncardiogenic. Patients may present with progressive dyspnea, orthopnea, cough, or respiratory failure. Pulmonary Edema, orthopnea Orthopnea Pulmonary Edema, paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea Dyspnea Dyspnea is the subjective sensation of breathing discomfort. Dyspnea is a normal manifestation of heavy physical or psychological exertion, but also may be caused by underlying conditions (both pulmonary and extrapulmonary). Dyspnea, dyspnea Dyspnea Dyspnea is the subjective sensation of breathing discomfort. Dyspnea is a normal manifestation of heavy physical or psychological exertion, but also may be caused by underlying conditions (both pulmonary and extrapulmonary). Dyspnea at rest, pitting edema Edema Edema is a condition in which excess serous fluid accumulates in the body cavity or interstitial space of connective tissues. Edema is a symptom observed in several medical conditions. It can be categorized into 2 types, namely, peripheral (in the extremities) and internal (in an organ or body cavity). Edema, S3 S3 Heart Sounds, S4 S4 Heart Sounds)
    • Signs of embolization Embolization A method of hemostasis utilizing various agents such as gelfoam, silastic, metal, glass, or plastic pellets, autologous clot, fat, and muscle as emboli. It has been used in the treatment of spinal cord and intracranial arteriovenous malformations, renal arteriovenous fistulas, gastrointestinal bleeding, epistaxis, hypersplenism, certain highly vascular tumors, traumatic rupture of blood vessels, and control of operative hemorrhage. Gastrointestinal Bleeding (stroke/ transient ischemic attack Transient ischemic attack Transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a temporary episode of neurologic dysfunction caused by ischemia without infarction that resolves completely when blood supply is restored. Transient ischemic attack is a neurologic emergency that warrants urgent medical attention. Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) [ TIA TIA Transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a temporary episode of neurologic dysfunction caused by ischemia without infarction that resolves completely when blood supply is restored. Transient ischemic attack is a neurologic emergency that warrants urgent medical attention. Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)] presenting with focal neurologic deficits Neurologic Deficits High-Risk Headaches such as paresis Paresis A general term referring to a mild to moderate degree of muscular weakness, occasionally used as a synonym for paralysis (severe or complete loss of motor function). In the older literature, paresis often referred specifically to paretic neurosyphilis. ‘general paresis’ and ‘general paralysis’ may still carry that connotation. Bilateral lower extremity paresis is referred to as paraparesis. Spinal Disk Herniation, vision Vision Ophthalmic Exam loss, or renal, splenic, or intestinal infarct Infarct Area of necrotic cells in an organ, arising mainly from hypoxia and ischemia Ischemic Cell Damage)

Diagnosis

Electrocardiogram Electrocardiogram An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a graphic representation of the electrical activity of the heart plotted against time. Adhesive electrodes are affixed to the skin surface allowing measurement of cardiac impulses from many angles. The ECG provides 3-dimensional information about the conduction system of the heart, the myocardium, and other cardiac structures. Electrocardiogram (ECG) ( ECG ECG An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a graphic representation of the electrical activity of the heart plotted against time. Adhesive electrodes are affixed to the skin surface allowing measurement of cardiac impulses from many angles. The ECG provides 3-dimensional information about the conduction system of the heart, the myocardium, and other cardiac structures. Electrocardiogram (ECG)): confirms diagnosis

  • Irregularly irregular (pathognomonic)
  • RR RR Relative risk (RR) is the risk of a disease or condition occurring in a group or population with a particular exposure relative to a control (unexposed) group. Measures of Risk intervals follow no repetitive pattern
  • No distinct P waves
  • Narrow QRS complexes (< 0.12 seconds)

Echocardiogram Echocardiogram Transposition of the Great Vessels: used to identify etiology and complications, not for diagnosis

Other tests to rule out underlying conditions:

  • Cardiac Cardiac Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) enzymes Enzymes Enzymes are complex protein biocatalysts that accelerate chemical reactions without being consumed by them. Due to the body’s constant metabolic needs, the absence of enzymes would make life unsustainable, as reactions would occur too slowly without these molecules. Basics of Enzymes myocardial infarction Myocardial infarction MI is ischemia and death of an area of myocardial tissue due to insufficient blood flow and oxygenation, usually from thrombus formation on a ruptured atherosclerotic plaque in the epicardial arteries. Clinical presentation is most commonly with chest pain, but women and patients with diabetes may have atypical symptoms. Myocardial Infarction
  • BNP BNP A peptide that is secreted by the brain and the heart atria, stored mainly in cardiac ventricular myocardium. It can cause natriuresis; diuresis; vasodilation; and inhibits secretion of renin and aldosterone. It improves heart function. It contains 32 amino acids. Renal Sodium and Water Regulation heart failure Heart Failure A heterogeneous condition in which the heart is unable to pump out sufficient blood to meet the metabolic need of the body. Heart failure can be caused by structural defects, functional abnormalities (ventricular dysfunction), or a sudden overload beyond its capacity. Chronic heart failure is more common than acute heart failure which results from sudden insult to cardiac function, such as myocardial infarction. Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR)
  • TSH/fT4 → hyperthyroidism Hyperthyroidism Hypersecretion of thyroid hormones from the thyroid gland. Elevated levels of thyroid hormones increase basal metabolic rate. Thyrotoxicosis and Hyperthyroidism
  • CBC → infection/ sepsis Sepsis Systemic inflammatory response syndrome with a proven or suspected infectious etiology. When sepsis is associated with organ dysfunction distant from the site of infection, it is called severe sepsis. When sepsis is accompanied by hypotension despite adequate fluid infusion, it is called septic shock. Sepsis and Septic Shock
  • BUN, creatinine → kidney function
  • CT pulmonary angiography Angiography Radiography of blood vessels after injection of a contrast medium. Cardiac Surgery pulmonary embolism Pulmonary Embolism Pulmonary embolism (PE) is a potentially fatal condition that occurs as a result of intraluminal obstruction of the main pulmonary artery or its branches. The causative factors include thrombi, air, amniotic fluid, and fat. In PE, gas exchange is impaired due to the decreased return of deoxygenated blood to the lungs. Pulmonary Embolism
  • Electrolytes Electrolytes Electrolytes are mineral salts that dissolve in water and dissociate into charged particles called ions, which can be either be positively (cations) or negatively (anions) charged. Electrolytes are distributed in the extracellular and intracellular compartments in different concentrations. Electrolytes are essential for various basic life-sustaining functions. Electrolytes ( potassium Potassium An element in the alkali group of metals with an atomic symbol k, atomic number 19, and atomic weight 39. 10. It is the chief cation in the intracellular fluid of muscle and other cells. Potassium ion is a strong electrolyte that plays a significant role in the regulation of fluid volume and maintenance of the water-electrolyte balance. Hyperkalemia, calcium Calcium A basic element found in nearly all tissues. It is a member of the alkaline earth family of metals with the atomic symbol ca, atomic number 20, and atomic weight 40. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and combines with phosphorus to form calcium phosphate in the bones and teeth. It is essential for the normal functioning of nerves and muscles and plays a role in blood coagulation (as factor IV) and in many enzymatic processes. Electrolytes, or magnesium Magnesium A metallic element that has the atomic symbol mg, atomic number 12, and atomic weight 24. 31. It is important for the activity of many enzymes, especially those involved in oxidative phosphorylation. Electrolytes) → electrolyte imbalances
  • Urine Urine Liquid by-product of excretion produced in the kidneys, temporarily stored in the bladder until discharge through the urethra. Bowen Disease and Erythroplasia of Queyrat drug screen → cocaine Cocaine An alkaloid ester extracted from the leaves of plants including coca. It is a local anesthetic and vasoconstrictor and is clinically used for that purpose, particularly in the eye, ear, nose, and throat. It also has powerful central nervous system effects similar to the amphetamines and is a drug of abuse. Cocaine, like amphetamines, acts by multiple mechanisms on brain catecholaminergic neurons; the mechanism of its reinforcing effects is thought to involve inhibition of dopamine uptake. Local Anesthetics, amphetamines Amphetamines Analogs or derivatives of amphetamine. Many are sympathomimetics and central nervous system stimulators causing excitation, vasopressin, bronchodilation, and to varying degrees, anorexia, analepsis, nasal decongestion, and some smooth muscle relaxation. Stimulants, digoxin Digoxin A cardiotonic glycoside obtained mainly from digitalis lanata; it consists of three sugars and the aglycone digoxigenin. Digoxin has positive inotropic and negative chronotropic activity. It is used to control ventricular rate in atrial fibrillation and in the management of congestive heart failure with atrial fibrillation. Its use in congestive heart failure and sinus rhythm is less certain. The margin between toxic and therapeutic doses is small. Cardiac Glycosides, or alcohol
  • Exercise testing → ischemic heart disease Ischemic heart disease Coronary heart disease (CHD), or ischemic heart disease, describes a situation in which an inadequate supply of blood to the myocardium exists due to a stenosis of the coronary arteries, typically from atherosclerosis. Coronary Heart Disease, also guides pharmacotherapy

Management

Algorithm for the management of atrial fibrillation

Algorithm for the management of atrial fibrillation

Image by Lecturio.

AF management consists of the following:

Special considerations:

AF Management principles
Hemodynamic status
  • Hemodynamically unstable AF → immediate cardioversion
  • Hemodynamically stable AF → rate control with beta-blockers Beta-blockers Drugs that bind to but do not activate beta-adrenergic receptors thereby blocking the actions of beta-adrenergic agonists. Adrenergic beta-antagonists are used for treatment of hypertension, cardiac arrhythmias, angina pectoris, glaucoma, migraine headaches, and anxiety. Class 2 Antiarrhythmic Drugs (Beta Blockers) or calcium channel blockers Calcium Channel Blockers Calcium channel blockers (CCBs) are a class of medications that inhibit voltage-dependent L-type calcium channels of cardiac and vascular smooth muscle cells. The inhibition of these channels produces vasodilation and myocardial depression. There are 2 major classes of CCBs: dihydropyridines and non-dihydropyridines. Class 4 Antiarrhythmic Drugs (Calcium Channel Blockers) (CCB)
Rate control vs. rhythm control Rate control
Indication:
  • Elderly patient
  • Long-standing AF without aberrant pathways
  • 1st: beta-blockers Beta-blockers Drugs that bind to but do not activate beta-adrenergic receptors thereby blocking the actions of beta-adrenergic agonists. Adrenergic beta-antagonists are used for treatment of hypertension, cardiac arrhythmias, angina pectoris, glaucoma, migraine headaches, and anxiety. Class 2 Antiarrhythmic Drugs (Beta Blockers) or non-dihydropyridine Non-Dihydropyridine Pulmonary Hypertension Drugs CCB ( diltiazem Diltiazem A benzothiazepine derivative with vasodilating action due to its antagonism of the actions of calcium ion on membrane functions. Class 4 Antiarrhythmic Drugs (Calcium Channel Blockers), verapamil Verapamil A calcium channel blocker that is a class IV anti-arrhythmia agent. Pulmonary Hypertension Drugs)
  • 2nd: digoxin Digoxin A cardiotonic glycoside obtained mainly from digitalis lanata; it consists of three sugars and the aglycone digoxigenin. Digoxin has positive inotropic and negative chronotropic activity. It is used to control ventricular rate in atrial fibrillation and in the management of congestive heart failure with atrial fibrillation. Its use in congestive heart failure and sinus rhythm is less certain. The margin between toxic and therapeutic doses is small. Cardiac Glycosides/ amiodarone Amiodarone An antianginal and class III antiarrhythmic drug. It increases the duration of ventricular and atrial muscle action by inhibiting potassium channels and voltage-gated sodium channels. There is a resulting decrease in heart rate and in vascular resistance. Pulmonary Fibrosis (refractory to beta-blockers Beta-blockers Drugs that bind to but do not activate beta-adrenergic receptors thereby blocking the actions of beta-adrenergic agonists. Adrenergic beta-antagonists are used for treatment of hypertension, cardiac arrhythmias, angina pectoris, glaucoma, migraine headaches, and anxiety. Class 2 Antiarrhythmic Drugs (Beta Blockers) or CCB or with heart failure Heart Failure A heterogeneous condition in which the heart is unable to pump out sufficient blood to meet the metabolic need of the body. Heart failure can be caused by structural defects, functional abnormalities (ventricular dysfunction), or a sudden overload beyond its capacity. Chronic heart failure is more common than acute heart failure which results from sudden insult to cardiac function, such as myocardial infarction. Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR))
Rhythm control
Indication:
  • Recent onset
  • Young patient
  • Symptomatic
Anticoagulation Anticoagulation Pulmonary Hypertension Drugs Warfarin Warfarin An anticoagulant that acts by inhibiting the synthesis of vitamin K-dependent coagulation factors. Warfarin is indicated for the prophylaxis and/or treatment of venous thrombosis and its extension, pulmonary embolism, and atrial fibrillation with embolization. It is also used as an adjunct in the prophylaxis of systemic embolism after myocardial infarction. Warfarin is also used as a rodenticide. Anticoagulants, novel oral anticoagulants Anticoagulants Anticoagulants are drugs that retard or interrupt the coagulation cascade. The primary classes of available anticoagulants include heparins, vitamin K-dependent antagonists (e.g., warfarin), direct thrombin inhibitors, and factor Xa inhibitors. Anticoagulants (NOAC) Indication:
  • Non-valvular AF (CHA2DS2-VASc ≥ 1)
  • In all valvular causes
Aspirin Aspirin The prototypical analgesic used in the treatment of mild to moderate pain. It has anti-inflammatory and antipyretic properties and acts as an inhibitor of cyclooxygenase which results in the inhibition of the biosynthesis of prostaglandins. Aspirin also inhibits platelet aggregation and is used in the prevention of arterial and venous thrombosis. Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) (antiplatelet therapy) Indication:
Cardioversion protocol (electrical or pharmacological) 3 weeks prior and 4 weeks post-cardioversion
Treat underlying cause Hypertension Hypertension Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common disease that manifests as elevated systemic arterial pressures. Hypertension is most often asymptomatic and is found incidentally as part of a routine physical examination or during triage for an unrelated medical encounter. Hypertension, coronary artery disease Coronary artery disease Pathological processes of coronary arteries that may derive from a congenital abnormality, atherosclerotic, or non-atherosclerotic cause. Stable and Unstable Angina, valvular heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease characterized by progressive, largely irreversible airflow obstruction. The condition usually presents in middle-aged or elderly persons with a history of cigarette smoking. Signs and symptoms include prolonged expiration, wheezing, diminished breath sounds, progressive dyspnea, and chronic cough. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), thyrotoxicosis Thyrotoxicosis A hypermetabolic syndrome caused by excess thyroid hormones which may come from endogenous or exogenous sources. The endogenous source of hormone may be thyroid hyperplasia; thyroid neoplasms; or hormone-producing extrathyroidal tissue. Thyrotoxicosis is characterized by nervousness; tachycardia; fatigue; weight loss; heat intolerance; and excessive sweating. Thyrotoxicosis and Hyperthyroidism, sick sinus syndrome Sick Sinus Syndrome Sick sinus syndrome (SSS), also known as sinus node dysfunction, is characterized by degeneration of the sinoatrial (SA) node, the heart’s primary pacemaker. Patients with SSS may be asymptomatic or may present with tachycardia or bradycardia. Sick Sinus Syndrome, etc ETC The electron transport chain (ETC) sends electrons through a series of proteins, which generate an electrochemical proton gradient that produces energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Electron Transport Chain (ETC).
CHA2DS2-VASc Score: assesses thromboembolic risk and the risk for stroke in patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship with AF
C Congestive heart failure Congestive heart failure Congestive heart failure refers to the inability of the heart to supply the body with normal cardiac output to meet metabolic needs. Echocardiography can confirm the diagnosis and give information about the ejection fraction. Congestive Heart Failure 1
H Hypertension Hypertension Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common disease that manifests as elevated systemic arterial pressures. Hypertension is most often asymptomatic and is found incidentally as part of a routine physical examination or during triage for an unrelated medical encounter. Hypertension 1
A Age (≥ 75 years) 2
D Diabetes mellitus Diabetes mellitus Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a metabolic disease characterized by hyperglycemia and dysfunction of the regulation of glucose metabolism by insulin. Type 1 DM is diagnosed mostly in children and young adults as the result of autoimmune destruction of β cells in the pancreas and the resulting lack of insulin. Type 2 DM has a significant association with obesity and is characterized by insulin resistance. Diabetes Mellitus 1
S Stroke, TIA TIA Transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a temporary episode of neurologic dysfunction caused by ischemia without infarction that resolves completely when blood supply is restored. Transient ischemic attack is a neurologic emergency that warrants urgent medical attention. Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), or thromboembolism Thromboembolism Obstruction of a blood vessel (embolism) by a blood clot (thrombus) in the blood stream. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 2
V Vascular disease 1
A Age 65–74 years 1
Sc Sex Sex The totality of characteristics of reproductive structure, functions, phenotype, and genotype, differentiating the male from the female organism. Gender Dysphoria category (female) 1
Scores of 1, 3, 5, and ≥ 6 carry an annual stroke risk of approximately 1%, 3%, 7%, and > 9%, respectively.

Differential Diagnosis

The following conditions are differential diagnoses for AF:

  • Atrial flutter Atrial flutter Atrial flutter is a regular supraventricular tachycardia characterized by an atrial heart rate between 240/min and 340/min (typically 300/min), atrioventricular (AV) node conduction block, and a “sawtooth” pattern on an electrocardiogram (ECG). Atrial Flutter: an irregular heart rhythm of the atria. It is classified as supraventricular tachycardia Supraventricular tachycardia Supraventricular tachycardias are related disorders in which the elevation in heart rate is driven by pathophysiology in the atria. This group falls under the larger umbrella of tachyarrhythmias and includes paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardias (PSVTs), ventricular pre-excitation syndromes (i.e. Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome), atrial flutter, multifocal atrial tachycardia, and atrial fibrillation. Supraventricular Tachycardias. Symptoms include palpitations Palpitations Ebstein’s Anomaly. Complications include increased risk of stroke and congestive heart failure Congestive heart failure Congestive heart failure refers to the inability of the heart to supply the body with normal cardiac output to meet metabolic needs. Echocardiography can confirm the diagnosis and give information about the ejection fraction. Congestive Heart Failure
    • Key difference: Flutter is a regular Regular Insulin rhythm whereas fibrillation is irregular. 
  • Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia Supraventricular tachycardia Supraventricular tachycardias are related disorders in which the elevation in heart rate is driven by pathophysiology in the atria. This group falls under the larger umbrella of tachyarrhythmias and includes paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardias (PSVTs), ventricular pre-excitation syndromes (i.e. Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome), atrial flutter, multifocal atrial tachycardia, and atrial fibrillation. Supraventricular Tachycardias: a type of supraventricular tachycardia Supraventricular tachycardia Supraventricular tachycardias are related disorders in which the elevation in heart rate is driven by pathophysiology in the atria. This group falls under the larger umbrella of tachyarrhythmias and includes paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardias (PSVTs), ventricular pre-excitation syndromes (i.e. Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome), atrial flutter, multifocal atrial tachycardia, and atrial fibrillation. Supraventricular Tachycardias characterized by narrow QRS complexes and a fast heart rhythm, typically between 150 and 240 beats per minute
  • Multifocal Multifocal Retinoblastoma atrial tachycardia Tachycardia Abnormally rapid heartbeat, usually with a heart rate above 100 beats per minute for adults. Tachycardia accompanied by disturbance in the cardiac depolarization (cardiac arrhythmia) is called tachyarrhythmia. Sepsis in Children: a type of atrial arrhythmia characterized by rapid heart rate Heart rate The number of times the heart ventricles contract per unit of time, usually per minute. Cardiac Physiology with at least 3 or more P wave P wave Electrocardiogram (ECG) morphologies. It is called multifocal Multifocal Retinoblastoma since the signals arise from various zones within the atria other than the sinus node. 
  • Premature Premature Childbirth before 37 weeks of pregnancy (259 days from the first day of the mother’s last menstrual period, or 245 days after fertilization). Necrotizing Enterocolitis atrial contractions: common ectopic beats generated from foci in atria, triggering premature Premature Childbirth before 37 weeks of pregnancy (259 days from the first day of the mother’s last menstrual period, or 245 days after fertilization). Necrotizing Enterocolitis heartbeats

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