Download Atrial Fibrillation - Developinganaesthesia

April 7, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: , Science, Health Science, Cardiology
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“Cesare Borgia”, Altobello Melone, c. 1520, Bergamo Accademia Carrara Italy “…no government should ever imagine that it can always adopt a safe course; rather it should regard all possible courses of action as risky. This is the way things are: whenever one tries to escape one danger one runs into another. Prudence consists in being able to assess the nature of a particular threat and in accepting the lesser evil.” The Prince, XX1, Niccolo Machiavelli, 1513-14. Though not widely read during his life time Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince” has become one of the iconic literary masterpieces of the Western world. Many works before his,

beginning with Plato’s “Republic” and many since such as Jean Jacques Rousseau’s “Emile” have tried to define what the “perfect society” ought to be. These works were based however on the wishful thinking of philosophers with little understanding of the “real world”. Machiavelli’s genius lay in his ability to assess and understand human nature as it truly is. Shocking to many of his time and since, it was a work that for the first time in history told of how a “prince” could attain and maintain a “perfect society” not based on a starry eyed ideal but within the constraints of the real world. Drawing on his own vast experience as a diplomat within the treacherous and turbulent world of Renaissance Italy he stated uncompromisingly what to varying degree most governments actually do, but none profess to do. Having dealt at first hand with all levels of society from the Emperor Maximilian of the Holy Roman Empire, King Louis XII of France, Leonardo da Vinci, Pope Julius II, the infamous Pope Alexander VI and his equally infamous son Cesare Borgia, upon whom his “prince” was modelled, to the common artisan, local farm workers, actresses of “ill repute”, soldiers and prostitutes, he came to know “human nature”. His earliest biographer Pasquale Villari, wrote of him, “Of middle height, slender figure, sparkling eyes, dark hair, rather a small head, a slightly aquiline nose, a tightly closed mouth. All about him bore the impress of a wry accurate observer and thinker. He could not easily rid himself of the sarcastic expression continually playing round his mouth and flashing from his eyes, which gave him the air of a cold impassable calculator...” One of his most recent biographers, Michael White, wrote of him, “…Machiavelli was a commanding presence in any company. He was cool calm astute, probing and wise. He could size up others very quickly with very little to go on. Most of the time he played his cards close to his chest, but he was never afraid to express a sincerely held opinion…he understood how the world worked and he could make piercing critical judgments with apparent ease” When confronting the problem of AF in the Emergency Department we must recognize that there is no ideal treatment that will cover all scenarios and situations. Like the history of man’s attempts to define the “perfect society” many textbooks describe their treatment of AF, but rarely if ever in practice will this be the ideal treatment for a particular individual case. We can only heed the wise words of Niccolo above, that no course of action will be without some measure of risk, this is currently “the way things are”. We must therefore be prudent, assessing each case on its merits, recognizing the nature of any threat for any particular treatment we choose. In the final event we must make a “piercing critical judgment” to do the best we can for our patients, accepting it as the “lesser evil” of other possible alternatives.


Introduction ●

Atrial fibrillation is a very common presenting problem to the ED.

Management is often problematic, there being no ideal treatment to cover all cases.

The major issue within the ED for rapid AF will be the decision of rate versus rhythm control.

Treatment decisions will be based on the chronicity of the problem, the clinical symptoms of the patient, the rate of the AF and the exact cause of the AF.

Pathophysiology Causes 1.

Primary ●


Primary electrical disorders, usually seen in younger patients.

Secondary causes: The most important causes include: ●

Ischemic heart disease, including acute coronary syndromes.

Valvular heart disease.



Thyrotoxicosis, especially in the elderly.

Congenital aberrant pathways, especially WPW.

Hypothermia, (common)

Less commonly ●

Drugs, especially alcohol and caffeine, (digoxin toxicity is not a cause)

Pulmonary embolism.

Pericardial disease.




Myocardial injury e.g. contusion.

Clinical Presentations Apart from the first episode, where the natural history is not clear, atrial fibrillation tends to fall into one of three clinical patterns, (the “three Ps”) with patients sometimes progressing from one to another. 1 Paroxysmal AF: ●

Episodes come on suddenly and will often revert spontaneously even if no intervention is undertaken within the next 24 to 48 hours.

Persistent AF: ●

Here there is a similar abrupt onset but episodes persist for days or weeks unless active measures are taken to revert the patient to sinus rhythm.

Permanent (or chronic) AF: ●

This is where the patient has demonstrated inability to sustain sinus rhythm for any length of time (or a decision has been made not to attempt cardioversion because of longstanding AF, giant atria, etc).

Investigations The following investigations should be considered: Blood tests: 1.



U&Es / glucose: ●



Hypokalemia, in particular.

Thyroid function tests: ●

This should be done for all new cases.

Note that patients who are on amiodarone and who present with rapid AF, should also have their TFTs repeated, as thyroid dysfunction, both hyper and hypo are possible side effects of this drug.

Cardiac enzymes: ●

These are not routinely required unless the patient presents with an ACS.

They should be considered in patients with high-risk co-morbidity for ACS, even if they do not present with chest pain.

ECG: ●

Absence of P waves (replaced by fibrillory waves, these can be coarse or fine).

The QRS complexes are irregularly irregular.

QRS complexes may be narrow or wide (if there is pre-existing bundle branch pathology or aberrant pathways)

The rate may be slow or fast. (If > 180 and with variable morphology, WPW may be the underlying cause).

CXR: ●

Look for cardiomegaly, suggestive of unsuspected cardiomyopathy.

If this is found flecainide and sotolol are best avoided.

Management This will depend on the following: 1.

How unwell the patient is.


The age of the patient.


The exact cause of the AF.


The rate of the ventricular response, (is it too slow or too fast)


The chronicity of the AF ●


Has it been present for less than or greater than 48 hours.

Any associated cardiac/medical conditions of the patient.

There is no current ideal treatment or drug for all patients or situations. Each case must therefore be treated on its merits in the light of the above considerations. The major initial decision in the ED will be between rate control or reversion to sinus rhythm. Two trials in 2002, the American AFFIRM trial and a second European study demonstrated that there was no longer term difference in mortality and morbidity between rate control and anticoagulation and rhythm control with anticoagulation in patients with persistent or chronic AF. 2, 3 So whilst it may be desirable to attempt reversion to sinus rhythm in some patients with significant symptoms or cardiovascular compromise, there is no overall absolute necessity to do so.

These studies concentrated predominantly on older patients (> 65 years of age) with cardiovascular risk factors and with persistent or chronic AF. Paroxysmal AF: The situation however is less clear in younger patients without significant associated risk factors or known structural heart disease and who present with apparent de novo paroxysmal AF. Whilst many will revert spontaneously within the following 24 hours, some may in fact be persistent which cannot be known at the initial time of presentation. An editorial in the NEJM edition that published the above two studies suggested that at an attempt at rhythm control in this group was justifiable though not imperative. 4 Advantages of restoring sinus rhythm in this group would include resolution of symptoms and the avoidance of the need for long term anti-coagulation. The following are guidelines for different scenarios that may be encountered in the ED. The unstable patient: ●

Cadioversion is the best treatment in the very unstable patient in whom it is thought that reversion to sinus rhythm would be beneficial.

Note however that AF, even if rapid, is usually well tolerated and that if a patient is unstable it may not be the AF that is the problem! For example in a patient with hypotension look for another cause (eg hypovolemia, pulmonary embolism) before attributing the problem to the AF.

New Onset Paroxysmal Rapid AF (< 48 hours): If the AF is a recurrent event, there may be a relevant history and pattern to take into account, but if a first episode a pattern will not yet be evident. In cases of paroxysmal AF of less than 48 hours duration, it is generally considered safe to attempt reversion to sinus rhythm without the need for an echocardiogram, as the risk of embolism in this group is very low. 1, 5 A judgment on this time frame can only be made if there is a clear and unambiguous history of a time of onset. Some anticoagulation should nonetheless be commenced for these patients as well. Even in very recent onset AF there is a risk of atrial “stunning” following reversion, (be it electrically, pharmacologically or spontaneous) to sinus rhythm. Stunning is an unpredictable failure of the atria to contract which may follow AF. It can occur even after a brief episode, (but is more common after longer attacks) and may persist for hours to days. During this time fresh thrombus can form within the non contracting atria and constitute an embolic risk (and even if a TOE was clear an hour or 2 earlier) 1 Pharmacological Reversion: Initial pharmacological treatment options include: 1.


Flecainide is the best option in younger patients providing they have normal left ventricular function, no structural heart disease or coronary artery disease.

Give flecainide 2 mg/kg IV over 30 minutes.

Alternatively: 2.


Amiodarone: ●

Give 5 mg/kg IV over 20 minutes.

Infusions of amiodarone can also be given for difficult to control rapid AF.

Sotolol: ●

Although commonly used for attempted pharmacological reversion, the evidence suggests it is no more effective than placebo (in contrast to its well documented efficacy in maintaining sinus rhythm in the long term) 1

Electrical Cardioversion: If sinus rhythm has not been achieved following attempted pharmacological reversion suitable patients may be discharged and reviewed in 24 hours (many cases will revert spontaneously, even without treatment). Alternatively patients may be monitored in an SSU, (Short Stay Unit). If still in AF at 24 hours then cardioversion in the ED should be considered. The patient should be fasted for at least 4 hours. Cardioversion can then be done under appropriate sedation. 150 Joules of biphasic energy counter shock should be used. 200-300 Joules of monophasic energy may be required. Anticoagulation: This is not currently well defined in the scenario of de novo paroxysmal presentations. Some current cardiologist opinion favors: 1 An initial dose of enoxaparin 1 mg/kg SC BD. One dose should be given pre procedure and a second 12 hours later, (an ED review in 24 hours may need to be arranged) It should be noted that in otherwise healthy patients under 55 years (CHAD 2 score 0, see appendix 1 below), this is commonly not done.

It may be reasonable to also discharge the patient home on aspirin 325 mg daily (or clopidogrel if the patient is unable to take this) until specialist cardiologist review. All patients who have been reverted by cardioversion or drug treatment should be observed in the ED/SSU for a minimum of 4 hours ECG monitoring before discharge. Rapid AF where the patient has been in AF > 48 hours: In this situation there is a clear risk of embolism if the patient is reverted to sinus rhythm and initial treatment is therefore aimed at rate control only. The AFFIRM trial and others mentioned above have shown that for those over 65 years with persistent or chronic AF, rate control is equal to rhythm control (in both cases with anticoagulation). There is therefore no imperative need to achieve rhythm control, unless symptoms are severe. Initial treatment in the ED therefore will primarily be aimed at rate control, (as well as attention to any underlying precipitating factors). A decision can be made later by the cardiology department as to whether an attempt at reversion to sinus rhythm is warranted. If sinus rhythm restoration is to be attempted in these cases then the risk of thromboembolism must first be minimized by TOE examination to exclude intracardiac thrombus (which will obviate the need for prolonged anticoagulation) or a period of anticoagulation for 4 weeks should be undertaken. Either way a period of anticoagulation will still be required post reversion in view of the atrial stunning phenomenon). Options for rate control (ie 180) and there is variation in the morphology of the QRS complexes. The following drugs are potentially dangerous in this condition and are best avoided: ●




Beta blockers

Blockade of the A-V node by these agents will allow an unrestricted pathway via the bundle of Kent into the ventricles. The following drugs may be considered: ●

Flecainide This is virtually the only anti-arrhythmic considered safe to use in this rhythm

Amiodarone and sotolol The safety of these agents, in particular amiodarone, is uncertain in WPW AF. ILCOR guidelines suggest they are safe, however a number of case reports have suggested otherwise. 7 (Both these agents have specific beta blocking effects).

If the patient is unstable then DC cardioversion is the treatment of choice. DC cardioversion is probably the best option in all cases of WPW AF. (See also separate WPW guidelines) Slow AF: AF with an excessively slow ventricular response rate may be seen in cases of: ●

Drug effect in patients with pre-existing AF.

As part of the syndrome of sinus nodal dysfunction.


Management in these cases will consist of: ●

Treatment of the underlying cause.

Atropine or pacing to improve the ventricular rate, (note that bradyarrhythmias should not be cardioverted, because of the risk of severe bradyarrhythmia or asystole.)

Disposition Considerations 1.

Cardiology or medical outpatient appointment, as needed. Older patients with chronic AF may be reviewed by their GP or medical outpatients, as appropriate.


Echocardiogram: ●

If the patient is able to be discharged then an outpatient echocardiogram should be organized if the patient has not had one in the recent past.


Electro-physiologist referral: ●

Younger patients should be referred to an electrophysiologist for review and consideration for ablation therapy.

Appendix 1 There are a number of scoring systems available to risk stratify patients when making a decision about long term anticoagulation options for patients in AF. A useful system is the CHADS 2 score: 6 CHADS 2 is a scoring system for patients with AF that determines their risk of stroke and therefore assists in decisions about their anticoagulation. It is an easily applied scoring system. Each item scores one point (except for stroke which scores 2, hence the 2 in CHADS 2) The five parameters are: C:

Congestive heart failure.




Age 75 years or older.


Diabetes mellitus.


Previous stroke or TIA

This system will therefore give a maximum score of 6. The risk of stroke as a percentage per year is related to the score as follows:


Risk of Stroke as % per year















Interpretation: ●

A score of 0 is classified as low risk

A score of 1-2 is classified as moderate risk.

A score of 3 or more, is classified as high risk.

Recommended treatment: Based on this classification, the following treatment strategies are proposed: 0:

Aspirin (325 mg/day)

1 to 2:

Aspirin or Warfarin to INR 2.0-3.0, depending on factors such as patient preference and suitability for warfarin therapy.

3 or more:

Warfarin to INR 2.0-3.0 unless contraindicated (e.g., history of falls, inability to obtain regular INR screening)

References 1.

Cardiovascular Therapeutic Guidelines, 5th ed 2008


A Comparison of Rate Control and Rhythm Control in Patients with Atrial Fibrillation; The Atrial Fibrillation Follow-up investigation of Rhythm Management Investigators, (AFFIRM). NEJM vol 347, no. 23 December 5, 2002.


Van Gelder I et al. A Comparison of Rate Control and Rhythm Control in Patients with Recurrent Persistent Atrial Fibrillation. NEJM vol 347, no. 23 December 5, 2002.


Editorial: Management of Atrial Fibrillation: Radical Reform or Modest Modification? NEJM vol 347, no. 23 December 5, 2002.


ILCOR 2005 Part 7.3: Management of Symptomatic Bradycardia and Tachycardia in Circulation December 13, 2005


Described in: Medi C et al. Atrial Fibrillation Clinical Update MJA MJA 2007; 186: 197–202


Tijunelis M.A, Herbert M.E Myth: Intravenous amiodarone is safe in patients with atrial fibrillation and Wolff–Parkinson–White syndrome in the emergency department. CJEM July 2005 (7) 4.


Onalan O. et al. Meta-analysis of magnesium therapy for the acute management of rapid atrial fibrillation. Am J Cardiol 99 (2): 1726, June 15, 2007.


Emergency Medicine Therapeutic Guidelines, 1st ed 2008.

Dr J. Hayes Reviewed January 2011

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