Automatic detection of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation in patients with ischaemic stroke: better than routine diagnostic workup?

Eur J Neurol. 2017 Jul;24(7):990-994. doi: 10.1111/ene.13326. Epub 2017 May 15.


Background and purpose: Prolonged electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring after ischaemic stroke increases the diagnostic yield of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (pAF). In order to facilitate the additional workload involved in ECG analysis due to prolonged monitoring times, we investigated the effectiveness of pAF detection with an automated software algorithm (SA) in comparison to the routine staff-based analysis (RA) during standard stroke-unit care. Therefore, patients with acute ischaemic stroke or transitory ischaemic attack presenting with sinus rhythmus on the admission ECG and no history of atrial fibrillation were prospectively included.

Methods: A 24-h Holter ECG assessment was performed using either RA based on a computer-aided evaluation and subsequent review by a cardiologist or a commercially available automated SA. In the case of discordant results concerning the occurrence of pAF between the two methods, the data underwent an independent external rating.

Results: Of 809 prospectively enrolled patients, 580 patients fulfilled the inclusion criteria. pAF was ultimately diagnosed in 3.3% of the cohort (19 patients). SA and RA correctly diagnosed pAF in 17 patients resulting in a comparable diagnostic effectiveness of the analysis methods (sensitivity: SA 89.5% vs. RA 89.5%; specificity: SA 99.3% vs. RA 99.1%; κ, 0.686; P < 0.001; 95% confidence interval, 0.525-0.847). RA revealed clinically relevant ECG abnormalities in an additional seven patients.

Conclusions: Although it should not completely replace RA, SA-based evaluation of Holter ECG reaches a high diagnostic effectiveness for the detection of pAF and can be used for a rapid and resource-saving analysis of ECG data to deal with prolonged monitoring times.

Keywords: Holter electrocardiogram; cerebral infarction; stroke; stroke unit; transitory ischaemic attack.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Algorithms
  • Atrial Fibrillation / complications*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / diagnosis*
  • Automation
  • Brain Ischemia / complications*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Electrocardiography, Ambulatory
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / diagnosis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Stroke / complications*