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Atrial fibrillation

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Updated 2024 STS guidelines for surgical management of atrial fibrillation.



AF is a cardiac arrhythmia characterized by a diffuse and abnormal pattern of electrical activity in the atria of the heart. AF is classified as valvular or nonvalvular based on the presence or absence of valvular heart disease, specifically MS, or a prosthetic heart valve.
The development of AF is related to structural and electrophysiological abnormalities resulting from comorbid conditions (including hypertension, diabetes mellitus, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, myocardial infarction, HF), genetics, sex, and other factors.
The prevalence of AF in the US ranges is estimated at 700-775 cases per 100,000 persons.
Disease course
In patients with AF, rapid and irregular atrial contractions lead to tachyarrhythmias, which lead to symptoms of palpitations, dyspnea, and an increased risk of HF; as well as stasis of blood in the LAA, which increases the risk of stroke and systemic embolism.
Prognosis and risk of recurrence
AF is estimated to cause 15% of all strokes and is associated with a 5-fold increased risk of stroke and a 2-fold risk for all-cause mortality, respectively.


Key sources

The following summarized guidelines for the evaluation and management of atrial fibrillation are prepared by our editorial team based on guidelines from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP 2024,2017), the American Heart Association (AHA/HRS/ACC/ACCP 2024), the Canadian Cardiovascular Society (CCS/CAIC 2024), the Kidney Disease: Improving Global Outcomes Foundation (KDIGO 2024), the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS 2024), the European ...
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Screening and diagnosis

Indications for screening, general population: as per USPSTF 2022 guidelines, insufficient evidence to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening for AF in individuals aged ≥ 50 years without a diagnosis or symptoms of AF and without a history of TIA or stroke.
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  • Indications for screening (stroke)

  • Indications for screening (hypertension)

  • Indications for screening (obstructive sleep apnea)

  • Indications for screening (previous atrial arrhythmias)

  • Indications for screening (cardiac implantable electronic devices)

  • Confirmatory testing

Classification and risk stratification

Stroke risk assessment
As per ACC/ACCP/AHA/HRS 2024 guidelines:
Assess the annual risk of thromboembolic events using a validated clinical risk score, such as the CHA2DS2-VASc score, in patients with AF.
Take into consideration factors that might modify the risk of stroke to help inform the decision in patients with AF at intermediate annual risk of thromboembolic events (based on risk scores, such as equivalent to CHA2DS2-VASc score of 1 in males or 2 in females) remaining uncertain about the benefit of anticoagulation.

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  • Bleeding risk assessment

Diagnostic investigations

Initial evaluation: as per ACC/ACCP/AHA/HRS 2024 guidelines, obtain a TTE to assess cardiac structure, laboratory testing including a CBC, metabolic panel, and thyroid function, and when clinical suspicion exists, targeted testing to assess for other medical conditions associated with AF to determine stroke and bleeding risk factors, as well as underlying conditions that will guide further management in patients with newly diagnosed AF.

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  • Evaluation for hypertension

  • Evaluation for ischemia

  • Evaluation for sleep apnea

Medical management

General principles: as per ACC/ACCP/AHA/HRS 2024 guidelines, provide comprehensive care addressing guideline-directed lifestyle risk factor modification, AF symptoms, risk of stroke, and other associated medical conditions to reduce AF burden, progression, or consequences.
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  • Management of intercurrent conditions

  • Management of secondary causes

  • Rate control (acute control, targets)

  • Rate control (acute control, choice of agents)

  • Rate control (long-term control, beta-blockers and CCBs)

  • Rate control (long-term control, digoxin)

  • Rate control (long-term control, amiodarone and dronedarone)

  • Rate control (long-term control, targets)

  • Rhythm control (general indications)

  • Rhythm control (pharmacological cardioversion, indications)

  • Rhythm control (pharmacological cardioversion, choice of agent)

  • Rhythm control (pharmacological cardioversion, pill-in-the-pocket)

  • Rhythm control (electrical cardioversion)

  • Rhythm control (maintenance therapy)

  • Anticoagulant therapy (general indications)

  • Anticoagulant therapy (DOACs)

  • Anticoagulant therapy (VKAs)

  • Anticoagulant therapy (peri-cardioversion)

  • Anticoagulant therapy (peri-catheter ablation)

  • Antiplatelet therapy

  • Management of bleeding (general principles)

  • Management of bleeding (direct thrombin inhibitors)

  • Management of bleeding (direct factor Xa inhibitors)

  • Management of bleeding (VKAs)

  • Management of bleeding (resumption of anticoagulation)

  • Management of hypertension (antihypertensive therapy)

  • Management of hypertension (rate control)

  • Management of hypertension (anticoagulation)

Nonpharmacologic interventions

Lifestyle modifications
As per EACTS/ESC 2021 guidelines:
Advise strict control of risk factors and avoidance of triggers as part of the rhythm control strategy.
Advise modifying unhealthy lifestyles to reduce the burden and symptom severity of AF.

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  • Weight loss

  • Physical activity

  • Smoking cessation

  • Alcohol restriction

  • Caffeine restriction

Therapeutic procedures

Catheter ablation, indications: as per ACC/ACCP/AHA/HRS 2024 guidelines, consider performing catheter ablation to improve symptoms in patients with symptomatic AF if antiarrhythmic drugs have been ineffective, contraindicated, not tolerated, or not preferred, and continued rhythm control is desired.
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  • Catheter ablation (technical considerations)

  • Catheter ablation (post-ablation antiarrhythmics)

  • Catheter ablation (post-ablation anticoagulation)

  • Atrioventricular nodal ablation (indications)

  • Atrioventricular nodal ablation (pacemaker placement)

Perioperative care

Pre-procedural anticoagulation interruption: as per ACC/ACCP/AHA/HRS 2024 guidelines, interrupt oral anticoagulation without bridging anticoagulation in patients with AF, excluding patients with recent stroke or TIA or a mechanical valve, receiving oral anticoagulation with either warfarin
or a DOAC scheduled to undergo an invasive procedure or surgery.
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  • Pre-procedural anticoagulation bridging

  • Post-procedural resumption of anticoagulation

Surgical interventions

LAA closure, indications: as per ACC/ACCP/AHA/HRS 2024 guidelines, consider performing percutaneous LAA occlusion in patients with AF, a moderate-to-high risk of stroke (CHA2DS2-VASc score ≥ 2), and contraindications to long-term oral anticoagulation due to a nonreversible cause.
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  • LAA closure (perioperative imaging)

  • LAA closure (technical considerations)

  • LAA closure (management of complications)

  • LAA closure (postoperative anticoagulation)

  • Surgical ablation

Specific circumstances

Athletes, physical activity: as per EACTS/ESC 2021 guidelines, counsel professional athletes that long-lasting, intense sports participation May promote AF, while moderate physical activity prevents AF.

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  • Athletes (catheter ablation)

  • Young patients (evaluation)

  • Young patients (catheter ablation)

  • Elderly patients

  • Pregnant patients (rate control)

  • Pregnant patients (cardioversion)

  • Pregnant patients (maintenance therapy)

  • Pregnant patients (anticoagulation)

  • Critically ill patients

  • Patients with subclinical AF (evaluation)

  • Patients with subclinical AF (anticoagulation)

  • Patients with postoperative AF (prevention)

  • Patients with postoperative AF (rate and rhythm control)

  • Patients with postoperative AF (anticoagulation)

  • Patients with postoperative AF (monitoring)

  • Patients with atrial flutter (catheter ablation)

  • Patients with atrial flutter (anticoagulation)

  • Patients with WPW and pre-excitation syndromes (rate control)

  • Patients with WPW and pre-excitation syndromes (cardioversion)

  • Patients with WPW and pre-excitation syndromes (catheter ablation)

  • Patients with obesity

  • Patients with chronic liver disease

  • Patients with CKD

  • Patients with AIS

  • Patients with ICH

  • Patients with CAD

  • Patients with ACS

  • Patients with PAD

  • Patients with valvular heart disease

  • Patients with CHD (general principles of management)

  • Patients with CHD (anticoagulation)

  • Patients with CHD (catheter ablation)

  • Patients with CHD (surgery)

  • Patients with HCM

  • Patients with HF (evaluation)

  • Patients with HF (rate control)

  • Patients with HF (catheter ablation)

  • Patients with HF (atrioventricular nodal ablation and pacing)

  • Patients with pulmonary disease

  • Patients with hyperthyroidism

  • Patients with cancer

Patient education

General counseling: as per EACTS/ESC 2021 guidelines, inform patients about the advantages/limitations and benefits/risks associated with treatment options to optimize shared decision-making about specific treatment options. Discuss the potential burden of the treatment and include the patient's perception of the treatment burden in the treatment decision.

Preventative measures

Primary prevention: as per ACC/ACCP/AHA/HRS 2024 guidelines, offer comprehensive guideline-directed lifestyle risk factor modification for AF, targeting obesity, physical inactivity, unhealthy alcohol consumption, smoking, diabetes, and hypertension in patients at increased risk of AF.

Follow-up and surveillance

Serial clinical assessment: as per CCS/CHRS 2020 guidelines, assess patient-reported AF-related symptoms and QoL with validated instruments as part of the longitudinal management of patients with AF.
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  • Serial electrocardiographic assessment

  • Assessment of treatment response

Quality improvement

Quality of care: as per EACTS/ESC 2021 guidelines, consider introducing tools to measure quality of care and identifying opportunities for improved treatment quality and patient outcome.
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