A 2014 study-Crystal AF- examined patients with cryptogenic stroke using a implantable cardiac monitor and reported that over a three year period 30% had episodes of atrial fibrillation(AF) lasting 30 seconds on longer.
A new study,Reveal AF,studied 394 patients using an implantable cardiac monitor with no history of AF but who were considered high risk for stroke based on the CHADS2 score.At the end of 18 months 29.3 % of the patients had episodes of AF of six minutes or more and at 30 months 40% had AF. Further, 12% had AF durations of 6 hours or more.
So we know that AF is common in 1) patients with history of stroke and no obvious cause 2) patients classified as high risk using the CHADS2 scoring system and 3) patients with pacemakers.
Should all patients with cryptogenic stroke shown to have AF by a implantable device receive oral anticoagulation? That seems to be common clinical practice but I am aware of no clinical trials showing the efficacy and safety of that approach. Should all patients with a CHAD2 score similar to that used in the Reveal AF study receive anticoagulation? ( in the trial 56% of the patients were actually prescribed OAC by their private physicians). Should all patients with pacemakers (PMs )with SCAF ( above some level of AF burden) receive OAC?
There are at least 2 randomized clinical trials underway which are designed to determine the effects of OAC on patients with subclinical AF (SCAF) as determined by data collected on patients with pace makers.
In addition a recent study ( see here) and analysis casts more than a little doubt on the validity of the various CHADS risk determination systems.
The prolific EP cardiologist author and blogger John Mandrola puts it this way in his discussion of the Reveal AF " ..if the average high risk older person has the same amount of short-duration AF as a person who just had a stroke how does this ( long term monitoring) help decide on therapy?" Point well taken.
Dr. H Kamel and associates have published an excellent commentary and review (3) of the mechanisms of stroke and atrial fibrillation which along with the Reveal AF trial results might slow down enthusiasm for implanting devices in all patients with cryptogenic stroke and the increasing call for more screening for the detection of afib.
1)Sanna, T Cryptogenic stroke and Underlying atrial fibrillation NEJM 2014: 370, 2478
2) Reiffel, JA presented at Heart rhythm Society Meeting, May 10-13, 2017.
3)Kamel, H et al Atrial fibrillation and mechanisms of stroke.Time for a new model.Stroke 2016 47 895-900.