Managing emergency department patients with recent-onset atrial fibrillation

J Emerg Med. 2012 Feb;42(2):139-48. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2010.05.017. Epub 2010 Jul 15.


Background: The management of emergency department (ED) patients with presumed recent-onset atrial fibrillation or flutter≤48h in duration varies widely.

Objective and method: We conducted a prospective study across three affiliated community EDs within a large integrated health care delivery system to describe the management of patients with recent-onset atrial fibrillation or flutter, to determine the safety and effectiveness of ED cardioversion, and to measure the incidence of thromboembolism 30 days after discharge.

Results: We enrolled 206 patients with convenience sampling between June 2005 and November 2007. Mean age was 64.0±14.4 years (range 21-96 years). Patients were grouped for analysis into four categories based on whether cardioversion was 1) spontaneous in the ED (59; 28.6%); 2) attempted with electrical or pharmacological means (115; 56.3%), with success in 110 (95.7%); 3) hoped for during a short stint of home observation (16; 7.8%, 11 of which spontaneously converted to sinus rhythm within 24h); or 4) contraindicated (16; 7.8%). Of the entire group, 183 (88.8%) patients were discharged home. Adverse events requiring ED interventions were reported in 6 (2.9%; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.1-6.2%) patients, all of whom recovered. Two (1.0%; 95% CI 0.1-3.5%) patients were found to have an embolic event on 30-day follow-up.

Conclusions: Our approach to ED patients with presumed recent-onset atrial fibrillation or flutter seems to be safe and effective, with a high rate of cardioversion and discharge to home coupled with a low ED adverse event and 30-day thromboembolic event rate.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / adverse effects
  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Atrial Fibrillation / therapy*
  • Calcium Channel Blockers / adverse effects
  • Calcium Channel Blockers / therapeutic use
  • Disease Management
  • Electric Countershock / adverse effects
  • Emergencies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Community / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Thromboembolism / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists
  • Calcium Channel Blockers