Atrial premature beats predict atrial fibrillation in cryptogenic stroke: results from the EMBRACE trial

Stroke. 2015 Apr;46(4):936-41. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.115.008714. Epub 2015 Feb 19.


Background and purpose: Many ischemic strokes or transient ischemic attacks are labeled cryptogenic but may have undetected atrial fibrillation (AF). We sought to identify those most likely to have subclinical AF.

Methods: We prospectively studied patients with cryptogenic stroke or transient ischemic attack aged ≥55 years in sinus rhythm, without known AF, enrolled in the intervention arm of the 30 Day Event Monitoring Belt for Recording Atrial Fibrillation After a Cerebral Ischemic Event (EMBRACE) trial. Participants underwent baseline 24-hour Holter ECG poststroke; if AF was not detected, they were randomly assigned to 30-day ECG monitoring with an AF auto-detect external loop recorder. Multivariable logistic regression assessed the association between baseline variables (Holter-detected atrial premature beats [APBs], runs of atrial tachycardia, age, and left atrial enlargement) and subsequent AF detection.

Results: Among 237 participants, the median baseline Holter APB count/24 h was 629 (interquartile range, 142-1973) among those who subsequently had AF detected versus 45 (interquartile range, 14-250) in those without AF (P<0.001). APB count was the only significant predictor of AF detection by 30-day ECG (P<0.0001), and at 90 days (P=0.0017) and 2 years (P=0.0027). Compared with the 16% overall 90-day AF detection rate, the probability of AF increased from <9% among patients with <100 APBs/24 h to 9% to 24% in those with 100 to 499 APBs/24 h, 25% to 37% with 500 to 999 APBs/24 h, 37% to 40% with 1000 to 1499 APBs/24 h, and 40% beyond 1500 APBs/24 h.

Conclusions: Among older cryptogenic stroke or transient ischemic attack patients, the number of APBs on a routine 24-hour Holter ECG was a strong dose-dependent independent predictor of prevalent subclinical AF. Those with frequent APBs have a high probability of AF and represent ideal candidates for prolonged ECG monitoring for AF detection.

Clinical trial registration: URL: Unique identifier: NCT00846924.

Keywords: atrial fibrillation; atrial premature complexes; cryptogenic stroke; electrocardiography; projections and predictions; risk.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Atrial Fibrillation / complications*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / diagnosis*
  • Atrial Premature Complexes / diagnosis*
  • Electrocardiography, Ambulatory
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / etiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Stroke / etiology*

Associated data