Objective: To prospectively evaluate right atrial refractoriness and sustained atrial fibrillation (AF) inducibility at programmed electrical stimulation in two groups of patient: a series of patients with chronic persistent AF, studied immediately after successful low energy internal atrial cardioversion, and a group of control patients without history of supraventricular arrhythmias.
Patients: Nineteen patients with chronic persistent AF (mean AF duration 11 +/- 10 months, range 2-61 months) submitted to successful internal low energy atrial cardioversion in fully conscious state and 11 control patients without history of supraventricular arrhythmias.
Methods: An electrophysiological evaluation was performed to measure atrial refractoriness and AF inducibility, by delivering single atrial extrastimuli in high right atrium, at decremental coupling, during spontaneous sinus rhythm and after 8 beats at 600, 500, 400 and 330 ms cycle length. If sustained AF was induced the protocol was terminated.
Results: During programmed atrial stimulation sustained AF was induced in 8 out of 19 (42%) of the AF patients but in none of the control group. Atrial effective refractory period was significantly shorter in AF patients compared to controls both at basic cycle length, at 600 ms, 500 ms and 400 ms cycle length, meanwhile no statistically significant differences were found at 330 ms cycle length. An altered relationship between atrial effective refractory period and cycle length was found in AF patients compared to controls: the slope of linear correlation slope was significantly lower in AF group than in controls (0.04 +/- 0.07 vs 0.17 +/- 0.10, p < 0.002).
Conclusions: Marked abnormalities of atrial refractoriness and of its heart rate relationship are observed after internal cardioversion of chronic persistent AF in humans and these abnormalities are associated with an high vulnerability to AF. These observations may explain the high risk of AF recurrences in the early phases following successful cardioversion. In this scenario antiarrhythmic drug therapy seems to be mandatory for reducing arrhythmia relapses.