Bimodal distribution of atrial fibrillation burden in 3 distinct cohorts: What is 'paroxysmal' atrial fibrillation?

Am Heart J. 2022 Feb;244:149-156. doi: 10.1016/j.ahj.2021.11.012. Epub 2021 Nov 25.


Background: Burden of atrial fibrillation (AF), as a continuous measure, is an emerging alternative classification often assumed to increase linearly with progression of disease. Yet there are no descriptions of AF burden distributions across populations.

Methods: We examined patterns of AF burden (% time in AF) across 3 different cohorts: outpatients with AF undergoing Holter monitoring in a national registry (ORBIT-AF II), routine outpatients undergoing Holter monitoring in a tertiary healthcare system (UHealth), and patients >= 65 years with cardiac implantable electronic devices (Merlin.netTM linked to Medicare).

Results: We included 2,058 ORBIT-AF II patients, 4,537 UHealth patients, and 39,710 from Mean age ranged from 56 to 77 years, sex ranged from 40% to 61% male, and mean CHA2DS2-VASc scores ranged from 2.2 to 4.9. Across all cohorts, AF burden demonstrated skewed frequency towards the extremes, with the vast majority of patients having either very low or very high AF burden. This bimodal distribution was consistent across cohorts, across clinically-documented AF types (paroxysmal v persistent), patients with or without a known AF diagnosis, and among patients with different types of cardiac implantable electronic devices.

Conclusions: Across 3 broad, diverse cohorts with continuous monitoring, distribution of AF burden was consistently skewed towards the extremes without an even, linear distribution or progression. As AF burden is increasingly recognized as a descriptor and potential risk-stratifier, these findings have important implications for future research and patient care.