Diurnal circadian variations in paroxysmal atrial fibrillation: The atherosclerosis risk in communities (ARIC) study

J Electrocardiol. 2020 Nov-Dec:63:98-103. doi: 10.1016/j.jelectrocard.2020.10.013. Epub 2020 Oct 30.


Background: Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (AF) is challenging to diagnose due to its intermittent nature. Circadian rhythmicity has been reported for cardiovascular events such as myocardial infarction; whether diurnal variation exists for paroxysmal AF is less known. We characterized the temporal pattern of AF initiation in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, a prospective community-based cohort study.

Methods: We included 74 ARIC study participants with paroxysmal AF detected by the Zio XT Patch at ARIC Visit 6 in 2016-17. We divided each participant's 2-week continuous monitoring data into 3-h intervals and summed the number of AF episodes in each interval. We performed Poisson regression using generalized estimating equations to estimate the effect of time of day on the number of AF episodes.

Results: Compared to the reference interval of time 00:00-02:59, the time intervals 12:00-14:59, 15:00-17:59, and 18:00-20:59 had significantly higher frequency of AF initiation. Rate ratios (95% CI) for mean number of episodes in these three intervals were 1.91 (1.11, 2.92), 2.54 (1.42, 4.53), and 1.99 (1.19, 3.25) respectively. Furthermore, we found no significant association between duration of episode and time of day.

Conclusion: There is diurnal variation in the initiation of AF episodes, with a peak in frequency in the late afternoon. Our finding is consistent with sympathetically driven AF. Pulse palpation or obtaining an electrocardiogram in the late afternoon may produce the highest diagnostic yield for AF.

Keywords: Arrhythmia; Atrial fibrillation; Electrocardiography; Heart rhythm disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis*
  • Atrial Fibrillation* / diagnosis
  • Atrial Fibrillation* / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Electrocardiography
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies