Prevalence and Incidence of Atrial Fibrillation in a Large Cohort of Adrenal Incidentalomas: A Long-Term Study

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2020 Aug 1;105(8):dgaa270. doi: 10.1210/clinem/dgaa270.


Context: Chronic glucocorticoids excess leads to morphological and functional cardiac alterations, a substrate for arrhythmias. Autonomous cortisol secretion (ACS) in adrenal incidentalomas is a model of chronic endogenous hypercortisolism.

Objective: To investigate prevalence and incidence of atrial fibrillation (AF) in a large cohort of patients with ACS.

Design: Retrospective study.

Setting: University hospital.

Patients: Patients evaluated between 1990 and 2018 for adrenal incidentalomas (n = 632), without pheochromocytoma, primary aldosteronism, Cushing syndrome, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, and adrenal malignancy. Cortisol after 1-mg dexamethasone suppression test < or > 50 nmol/L defined nonsecreting tumors (NST) (n = 420) and ACS (n = 212), respectively.

Intervention: Assessment of AF at baseline (n = 632) and during a median follow-up of 7.7 years retrospectively (NST, n = 249; ACS, n = 108). Comparison with general population.

Main outcome measure: Prevalence and incidence of AF.

Results: AF prevalence was higher in patients with ACS (8.5%) than NST (3.1%, P = 0.003) and the general population (1.7%; P < 0.001 vs ACS, P = 0.034 vs NST). The age-adjusted rate ratio to the general population was 1.0 for NST and 2.6 for ACS. AF was associated with ACS (odds ratio, 2.40; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.07-5.39; P = 0.035). The proportion of patients with AF at last evaluation was higher in ACS (20.0%) than NST (11.9%; P = 0.026). ACS showed a higher risk of incident AF than NST (hazard ratio, 2.95; 95% CI, 1.27-6.86; P = 0.012), which was associated with post-dexamethasone cortisol (hazard ratio, 1.15; 95% CI, 1.07-1.24; P < 0.001), independently of known contributing factors.

Conclusions: Patients with adrenal incidentalomas and ACS are at risk of AF. Electrocardiogram monitoring may be recommended during follow-up.

Keywords: adrenal incidentaloma; arrhythmia; atrial fibrillation; autonomous cortisol secretion; cortisol.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / complications*
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Aged
  • Atrial Fibrillation / diagnosis
  • Atrial Fibrillation / epidemiology*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / etiology
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Hydrocortisone

Supplementary concepts

  • Adrenal incidentaloma