Faster Atrial Fibrillation Treatments Had Better Outcomes

Atrial fibrillation treated within 12 hours decreased stroke and blood clot risk

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) A sudden change in heart rhythm is a scary and serious condition that can predict life-threatening illnesses like heart failure and stroke. But immediate treatment may decrease risks for those illnesses.

Doctors usually treat sudden heart rate changes by resetting heart rhythm and preventing blood clots.

According to a new study, quick treatment of a changing heart rate was associated with a decreased likelihood of developing a blood clot or having a stroke.

"Seek immediate medical care for an irregular heart rate."

The study was conducted by K.E. Juhani Airaksinen, MD, PhD, of the Turku University Hospital in Turku, Finland, and colleagues.

The researchers framed their study on 1995 clinical guidelines that recommended returning heart rhythm to normal within 48 hours of atrial fibrillation (AF) without also using blood thinners.

AF is an irregular heart rate that can indicate more severe problems. Main treatments of AF include returning the heart rate to normal and preventing blood clots.

Heart rate can be reset with medication or an electrical shock. Blood clots are primarily prevented with anticoagulant (blood-thinning) medicine.

Dr. Airaksinen and team set out to study whether the risk of stroke or other complications like blood clots increased when AF was treated without blood thinners within 48 hours of diagnosis.

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is cut off and can be caused by a blood clot.

The researchers studied 2,481 patients with AF. Doctors successfully reset the heart rate (cardioversion) in that group 5,116 times.

The study authors divided patients into three groups based on when they received cardioversion following AF: less than 12 hours, between 12 and 24 hours, and between 24 and 48 hours.

Overall, 31 patients had strokes. Seven others had blood clots.

The likelihood of stroke or blood clot was 0.3 percent in the group treated in less than 12 hours. That increased to 1.1 percent in the group treated between 24 and 48 hours after AF.

“We found that a delay to cardioversion of 12 hours or longer from symptom onset was associated with a greater risk of [stroke or blood clots]," the study authors wrote.

The research was published online Aug. 12 in JAMA.

The Finnish Foundation for Cardiovascular Research and the Clinical Research Fund of Turku University Hospital funded the research. The authors did not disclose any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 11, 2014
Last Updated:
August 12, 2014