Factors that influence the development of atrial flutter after the Fontan operation

J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 1997 Jan;113(1):80-6. doi: 10.1016/s0022-5223(97)70402-1.


Objectives: Atrial flutter is a frequent, potentially fatal complication of the Fontan operation, but risk factors for its development are ill defined. We evaluated clinical features that might predict the development of atrial flutter in patients who had a Fontan operation.

Methods: We evaluated 334 early survivors of a Fontan operation done between April 1973 and July 1991 (mean follow-up, 5.0 +/- 3.8 years). Evaluation included electrocardiography, Holter monitor recordings, and chart review. Modifications of the Fontan operation included an extracardiac conduit (n = 43), an atriopulmonary anastomosis (n = 117), or a total cavopulmonary anastomosis (n = 174). Patient, time, and procedure-related variables were analyzed with respect to the development of atrial flutter.

Results: Atrial flutter was identified in 54 (16%) patients at a mean of 5.3 +/- 4.7 years (range 0 to 19.7 years) after Fontan operation. Atrial flutter developed sooner and was more likely to occur in patients who were older at the time of Fontan operation (12.4 +/- 7.6 vs 6.3 +/- 5.2 years; p < 0.001), had a longer follow-up interval (8.7 +/- 3.9 vs 4.4 +/- 3.4 years; p < 0.001), had a prior atrial septectomy or pulmonary artery reconstruction (p < 0.01), and had worse New York Heart Association class symptoms (p < 0.02). The presence of sinus node dysfunction was associated with a higher incidence of atrial flutter (p < 0.001). Although there was a lower prevalence of atrial flutter in those patients with a total cavopulmonary anastomosis, the follow-up for this group was shorter. Anatomic diagnoses, perioperative hemodynamics, and other previous palliative operations were not associated with an increased incidence of atrial flutter. Multivariate analysis identified age at operation, duration of follow-up, extensive atrial baffling, and type of repair as factors associated with the development of atrial flutter after Fontan operation.

Conclusion: Atrial flutter continues to develop with time after the Fontan operation. Further follow-up is necessary to determine whether a total cavopulmonary anastomosis reduces the incidence of atrial flutter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Atrial Flutter / etiology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Fontan Procedure*
  • Heart Bypass, Right
  • Hemodynamics
  • Humans
  • Sinoatrial Node / physiopathology