Objective: The association of atrial fibrillation with thoracic surgical procedures is well known, but nevertheless its cause is not well defined. Increased sympathetic activity may play a role in the development of atrial fibrillation, and reduced beta-receptor activity may be advantageous. The objective was to evaluate the effect of oral beta-blockade on the frequency of atrial fibrillation and to evaluate some possible causative factors.
Design and setting: The study was prospective, randomized, and double-blind, and was conducted at Aarhus University Hospital.
Participants: Thirty patients without previous or present cardiovascular history undergoing elective thoracotomy for lung resection.
Interventions: The patients received either 100 mg of metoprolol or placebo orally before surgery and once daily postoperatively. Anesthesia consisted of a thoracic epidural block combined with general intravenous anesthesia. Epidural morphine was continued postoperatively.
Measurements and main results: Patients were monitored with electrocardiograms (ECGs), capillary pulse oximetry, invasive hemodynamic monitoring, central venous oxygen saturation, arterial blood gases, serum electrolytes, and fluid balances. Atrial fibrillation developed in 23.3% of the patients, 6.7% after metoprolol compared with 40% in the placebo group. Atrial fibrillation developed a mean of 2.9 days postoperatively. The predominant hemodynamic findings were perioperative lower oxygen consumption and postoperative lower cardiac index after metoprolol. Patients developing atrial fibrillation had much higher oxygen consumption and postoperative cardiac index than other patients.
Conclusion: Perioperative oral beta-blockade can reduce the frequency of atrial fibrillation without serious side effects. Increased sympathetic activity is one of the predominant factors in the cause of this complication.