Brief episodes of rapid irregular atrial activity (micro-AF) are a risk marker for atrial fibrillation: a prospective cohort study

BMC Cardiovasc Disord. 2020 Apr 10;20(1):167. doi: 10.1186/s12872-020-01453-w.


Background: Short supraventricular tachycardias with atrial fibrillation (AF) characteristics are associated with an increased risk of developing AF over time. The aim of this study is to determine if presence of very short-lasting episodes of AF-like activity (micro-AF) can also be used as a marker of undiagnosed silent atrial fibrillation.

Methods: In the STROKESTOP II study, a Swedish mass screening study for AF among 75- and 76-year-olds, participants with NT-proBNP ≥125 ng/L performed intermittent ECG recordings 30 s, four times daily for 2 weeks. Participants with micro-AF (sudden onset of irregular tachycardia with episodes of ≥5 consecutive supraventricular beats and total absence of p-waves, lasting less than 30 s) were invited to undergo extended AF screening using continuous event recording for 2 weeks. A control group of individuals without micro-AF was examined using the same ECG modalities.

Results: Out of 3763 participants in STROKESTOP II who had elevated NT-proBNP levels and were free of AF, n = 221 (6%) had micro-AF. The majority of participants with micro-AF (n = 196) accepted further investigation with continuous ECG monitoring which showed presence of AF in 26 of them. In the control group (n = 250), continuous monitoring detected 7 new AF cases. Thus, AF was significantly more common in the micro AF group (13%) compared to the control group (3%), p < 0.001.

Conclusions: Presence of short-lasting episodes of AF-like activity (micro-AF) indicates increased likelihood for undetected AF. Continuous screening therefore seems recommendable if a finding of AF would change clinical management.

Trail registration:, identifier: NCT02743416, registered April 19, 2016.

Keywords: Atrial fibrillation; Electrocardiogram; Micro-AF; Screening; Supraventricular ectopic beats; Supraventricular tachycardia.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Atrial Fibrillation / diagnosis*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / epidemiology
  • Atrial Fibrillation / physiopathology
  • Atrial Premature Complexes / diagnosis*
  • Atrial Premature Complexes / epidemiology
  • Atrial Premature Complexes / physiopathology
  • Electrocardiography, Ambulatory*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Tachycardia, Supraventricular / diagnosis*
  • Tachycardia, Supraventricular / epidemiology
  • Tachycardia, Supraventricular / physiopathology
  • Time Factors

Associated data