Postoperative Atrial Fibrillation After Cardiac Surgery: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Ann Thorac Surg. 2021 Feb;111(2):544-554. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2020.05.104. Epub 2020 Jul 17.


Background: Postoperative atrial fibrillation (POAF) after cardiac surgery is associated with longer hospital stay and increased in-hospital death and stroke, but its long-term implications remain incompletely understood. A systematic literature review was undertaken to investigate the impact of POAF on long-term death and stroke in adult patients who undergo cardiac operations.

Methods: Electronic databases (Cochrane, Embase, Ovid MEDLINE, and PubMed) were queried from inception to October 2018. Included studies compared long-term outcomes after cardiac operations in patients with and without POAF. Adjusted and unadjusted meta-analyses examined death, stroke, and major adverse cardiac and cerebrovascular events. Risk of bias was evaluated with the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale.

Results: The inclusion criteria were met by 32 studies describing 155,575 patients who had undergone cardiac operations. POAF occurred in 36,988 patients (23.7%). Meta-analysis of 10 studies (44,367 patients) demonstrated increased 1-year death in patients with POAF (odds ratio, 2.60; 95% confidence interval, 2-3.38; P < .01). Aggregate adjusted hazard of death (16 studies, n = 84,295) was also increased in patients with POAF (hazard ratio, 1.25; 95% confidence interval, 1.2-1.3; P < .01).

Conclusions: This systematic review and meta-analysis identified an association between POAF and long-term death after cardiac surgery. More comprehensive POAF prevention and management, including more stringent follow-up for POAF recurrence after hospital discharge, may be indicated. The included studies used inconsistent definitions of POAF and variable exclusion criteria; however, estimates of heterogeneity are low. Differences in preoperative comorbidities, such as age, ejection fraction, and obesity, may not be fully accounted for in adjusted analyses. Future work is required to delineate mechanisms linking POAF and death in this population.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Atrial Fibrillation / etiology*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / mortality
  • Atrial Fibrillation / prevention & control
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology*
  • Postoperative Complications / mortality
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control
  • Publication Bias