Our understanding of the risk factors and complications of atrial fibrillation (AF) is based mostly on studies that have evaluated AF in a binary fashion (present or absent) and have not investigated AF burden. This scientific statement discusses the published literature and knowledge gaps related to methods of defining and measuring AF burden, the relationship of AF burden to cardiovascular and neurological outcomes, and the effect of lifestyle and risk factor modification on AF burden. Many studies examine outcomes by AF burden classified by AF type (paroxysmal versus nonparoxysmal); however, quantitatively, AF burden can be defined by longest duration, number of AF episodes during a monitoring period, and the proportion of time an individual is in AF during a monitoring period (expressed as a percentage). Current guidelines make identical recommendations for anticoagulation regardless of AF pattern or burden; however, a review of recent evidence suggests that higher AF burden is associated with higher risk of stroke. It is unclear whether the risk increases continuously or whether a threshold exists; if a threshold exists, it has not been defined. Higher burden of AF is also associated with higher prevalence and incidence of heart failure and higher risk of mortality, but not necessarily lower quality of life. A structured and comprehensive risk factor management program targeting risk factors, weight loss, and maintenance of a healthy weight appears to be effective in reducing AF burden. Despite this growing understanding of AF burden, research is needed into validation of definitions and measures of AF burden, determination of the threshold of AF burden that results in an increased risk of stroke that warrants anticoagulation, and discovery of the mechanisms underlying the weak temporal correlations of AF and stroke. Moreover, developments in monitoring technologies will likely change the landscape of long-term AF monitoring and could allow better definition of the significance of changes in AF burden over time.
Keywords: AHA Scientific Statements; atrial fibrillation; lifestyle; risk factors; stroke.
© 2018 American Heart Association, Inc.