Background: Among patients with atrial fibrillation, the risk of stroke is highest for those with a history of stroke; however, oral anticoagulants can lower the risk of recurrent stroke by two-thirds. No consensus has been reached about how atrial fibrillation should be investigated in patients with stroke, and its prevalence after a stroke remains uncertain. We did a systematic review and meta-analysis to estimate the proportion of patients newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation after four sequential phases of cardiac monitoring after a stroke or transient ischaemic attack.
Methods: We searched PubMed, Embase, and Scopus from 1980 to June 30, 2014. We included studies that provided the number of patients with ischaemic stroke or transient ischaemic attack who were newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. We stratified cardiac monitoring methods into four sequential phases of screening: phase 1 (emergency room) consisted of admission electrocardiogram (ECG); phase 2 (in hospital) comprised serial ECG, continuous inpatient ECG monitoring, continuous inpatient cardiac telemetry, and in-hospital Holter monitoring; phase 3 (first ambulatory period) consisted of ambulatory Holter; and phase 4 (second ambulatory period) consisted of mobile cardiac outpatient telemetry, external loop recording, and implantable loop recording. The primary endpoint was the proportion of patients newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation for each method and each phase, and for the sequential combination of phases. For each method and each phase, we estimated the summary proportion of patients diagnosed with post-stroke atrial fibrillation using random-effects meta-analyses.
Findings: Our systematic review returned 28,290 studies, of which 50 studies (comprising 11,658 patients) met the criteria for inclusion in the meta-analyses. The summary proportion of patients diagnosed with post-stroke atrial fibrillation was 7·7% (95% CI 5·0-10·8) in phase 1, 5·1% (3·8-6·5) in phase 2, 10·7% (5·6-17·2) in phase 3, and 16·9% (13·0-21·2) in phase 4. The overall atrial fibrillation detection yield after all phases of sequential cardiac monitoring was 23·7% (95% CI 17·2-31·0).
Interpretation: By sequentially combining cardiac monitoring methods, atrial fibrillation might be newly detected in nearly a quarter of patients with stroke or transient ischaemic attack. The overall proportion of patients with stroke who are known to have atrial fibrillation seems to be higher than previously estimated. Accordingly, more patients could be treated with oral anticoagulants and more stroke recurrences prevented.
Funding: Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, and Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
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