Slow blood-flow in the left atrial appendage is associated with stroke in atrial fibrillation patients

Heliyon. 2024 Feb 28;10(5):e26858. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2024.e26858. eCollection 2024 Mar 15.


Background: Atrial fibrillation (AF) patients are at high risk of stroke with ∼90% clots originating from the left atrial appendage (LAA). Clinical understanding of blood-flow based parameters and their potential association with stroke for AF patients remains poorly understood. We hypothesize that slow blood-flow either in the LA or the LAA could lead to the formation of blood clots and is associated with stroke for AF patients.

Methods: We retrospectively collected cardiac CT images of paroxysmal AF patients and dichotomized them based on clinical event of previous embolic event into stroke and non-stroke groups. After image segmentation to obtain 3D LA geometry, patient-specific blood-flow analysis was performed to model LA hemodynamics. In terms of geometry, we calculated area of the pulmonary veins (PVs), mitral valve, LA and LAA, orifice area of LAA and volumes of LA and LAA and classified LAA morphologies. For hemodynamic assessment, we quantified blood flow velocity, wall shear stress (WSS, blood-friction on LA wall), oscillatory shear index (OSI, directional change of WSS) and endothelial cell activation potential (ECAP, ratio of OSI and WSS quantifying slow and oscillatory flow) in the LA as well as the LAA. Statistical analysis was performed to compare the parameters between the groups.

Results: Twenty-seven patients were included in the stroke and 28 in the non-stroke group. Examining geometrical parameters, area of left inferior PV was found to be significantly higher in the stroke group as compared to non-stroke group (p = 0.026). In terms of hemodynamics, stroke group had significantly lower blood velocity (p = 0.027), WSS (p = 0.018) and higher ECAP (p = 0.032) in the LAA as compared to non-stroke group. However, LAA morphologic type did not differ between the two groups. This suggests that stroke patients had significantly slow and oscillatory circulating blood-flow in the LAA, which might expose it to potential thrombogenesis.

Conclusion: Slow flow in the LAA alone was associated with stroke in this paroxysmal AF cohort. Patient-specific blood-flow analysis can potentially identify such hemodynamic conditions, aiding in clinical stroke risk stratification of AF patients.

Keywords: Atrial fibrillation; Computational fluid dynamics; Hemodynamics; Patient-specific simulation; Stroke.