Electrocardiographic intervals associated with incident atrial fibrillation: Dissecting the QT interval

Heart Rhythm. 2017 May;14(5):654-660. doi: 10.1016/j.hrthm.2017.02.005. Epub 2017 Feb 9.


Background: Prolongation of the QT interval has been associated with an increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation (AF), but the responsible mechanism remains unknown.

Objectives: The aims of this study were to subdivide the QT interval into its components and identify the resultant electrocardiographic interval(s) responsible for the association with AF.

Methods: Predefined QT-interval components were assessed for association with incident AF in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study using Cox proportional hazards models. Hazard ratios (HRs) were calculated per 1-SD increase in each component. Among QT-interval components exhibiting significant associations, additional analyses evaluating long extremes, defined as greater than the 95th percentile, were performed.

Results: Of the 14,625 individuals, 1505 (10.3%) were diagnosed with incident AF during a mean follow-up period of 17.6 years. After multivariable adjustment, QT-interval components involved in repolarization, but not depolarization, exhibited significant associations with incident AF, including a longer ST segment (HR 1.27; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.14-1.41; P < .001) and a prolonged T-wave onset to T-wave peak (T-onset to T-peak) (HR 1.13; 95% CI 1.07-1.20; P < .001). Marked prolongation of the ST segment (HR 1.31; 95% CI 1.04-1.64; P = .022) and T-onset to T-peak (HR 1.36; 95% CI 1.09-1.69; P = .006) was also associated with an increased risk of incident AF.

Conclusion: The association between a prolonged QT interval and incident AF is primarily explained by components involved in ventricular repolarization: prolongation of the ST segment and T-onset to T-peak. These observations suggest that prolongation of phases 2 and 3 of the cardiac action potential drives the association between the QT interval and AF risk.

Keywords: Arrhythmia; Atrial fibrillation; Electrocardiography; Epidemiology; QT interval.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / diagnosis
  • Atrial Fibrillation / etiology
  • Atrial Fibrillation / physiopathology*
  • Electrocardiography*
  • Heart Conduction System / physiopathology
  • Humans