Objectives: To what extent silent paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (AF) is present in ischaemic stroke patients has not been established. We hypothesized that brief intermittent long-term electrocardiogram (ECG) recordings at regular time intervals are more effective than short-term continuous ECG monitoring in detecting silent AF episodes.
Methods and results: Consecutive patients who had suffered an ischaemic stroke/transient ischaemic attack (TIA) and were without known AF underwent a 24 h continuous ECG recording and performed 10 s rhythm registrations using a hand-held ECG recorder twice daily for 30 days and when arrhythmia symptoms occured. Two hundred and forty-nine stroke patients were included. Mean National Institute of Health Stroke Scale (NIHSS) score was 0.9 (0-10). In total, 17 patients were diagnosed with AF. One hundred and eight AF episodes were diagnosed in 15 patients using intermittent recording, out of which 22% where unscheduled symptom triggered episodes. In three patients AF was diagnosed with both methods and in two patients AF was detected exclusively with 24 h Holter monitoring. A significant difference in favour of the hand-held ECG was shown between the two methods (P = 0.013). The total prevalence of AF was 6.8% and increased to 11.8% in patients ≥75 years. No AF was found in patients <65 years.
Conclusions: Prolonged brief intermittent arrhythmia screening substantially improves the detection of silent paroxysmal AF in patients with a recent ischaemic stroke/TIA, and thus facilitates the detection of patients who should receive oral anticoagulant treatment.