Silent atrial fibrillation: epidemiology, diagnosis, and clinical impact

Clin Cardiol. 2017 Jun;40(6):413-418. doi: 10.1002/clc.22667. Epub 2017 Mar 8.


Silent or subclinical asymptomatic atrial fibrillation (SAF) has currently gained wide interest in the epidemiologic, neurologic, and cardiovascular communities. It is well known that the electrophysiological and mechanical effects of symptomatic and silent atrial fibrillation (AF) are the same. It is probable that because "AF begets AF," progression from paroxysmal to persistent or permanent AF might be more rapid in patients with long-term unrecognized and untreated SAF, because no treatment is sought by or provided to such patients. Moreover, SAF is common and has significant clinical implications. The clinical consequences of SAF, which include emboli (silent or symptomatic), heart failure, and early mortality, are of paramount importance. Consequently, SAF should be considered in estimating the prevalence of the disease and its impact on morbidity, mortality, and quality of life. Several diagnostic methods of arrhythmia detection utilizing the surface electrocardiogram (ECG), subcutaneous ECG, or intracardiac devices have been utilized to seek meaningful arrhythmic markers of SAF. Whereas a wide range of clinical risk factors of SAF have been validated in the literature, there is an ongoing search for those arrhythmic risk factors that precisely identify and prognosticate outcome events in diverse populations at risk of SAF. Modern diagnostic modalities for the identification of SAF exist, but should be further explored, validated, and tailored to each patient needs. The scientific community should undertake the clinical challenge of identifying and treating SAF.

Keywords: silent atrial fibrillation, atrial fibrillation burden, diagnosis, epidemiology, clinical consequences.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Atrial Fibrillation* / diagnosis
  • Atrial Fibrillation* / epidemiology
  • Atrial Fibrillation* / physiopathology
  • Electrocardiography, Ambulatory
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Prevalence
  • Quality of Life*
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Risk Factors