Stroke Possible After Atrial Fibrillation Surgery

Late neurologic events uncommon but occur after atrial fibrillation surgery

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Atrial fibrillation is one of the bigger risk factors for having a stroke. So surgery to correct the condition should mean that people are out of the woods as far as stroke risk, right? Not so fast...

New research suggests that, while rare, there is still a low ongoing risk of stroke following surgery for atrial fibrillation.

Richard Lee, MD, a lead researcher from the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, found that patients who received arrhythmia surgery had a heightened risk for stroke or mini stroke years after the procedure compared to stroke risk for individuals who did not undergo the treatment.

"Ask your cardiologist about post-surgery risks."

During the study investigators followed 773 atrial fibrillation patients who received surgery between April 2004 and June 2011. Participants underwent a variety of arrhythmia operations including elimination of the left atrial appendage, a small lip of extra tissue on the left side of the heart where blood clots that cause strokes may form.

Patients were followed through phone calls and medical records to determine whether they experienced a stroke of transient ischemic attack 30 days or more after surgery. Average survival follow up was just over three years.

Investigators found that 4 percent, or 25 patients, experienced a late neurologic event, on average occurring nearly three and a half years after surgery. Of those neurologic events, 17 were confirmed strokes and 8 were mini strokes.

Patients whose surgery involved alternative elimination techniques were found to experience strokes slightly more often versus those who received other types of surgery.

Researchers indicated that additional studies will be needed to clarify which patients are at a higher risk of stroke after atrial fibrillation surgery. In addition, investigators are curious as to whether risk varies for patients receiving alternative elimination surgery or in those whose atrial fibrillation is successfully eliminated by the operation.

The study was recently published in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery.

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Review Date: 
October 18, 2012
Last Updated:
October 22, 2012