Objectives: This study explored the mechanisms linking clinical and precordial echocardiographic predictors to thromboembolism in atrial fibrillation (AF) by assessing transesophageal echocardiographic (TEE) correlations.
Background: Clinical predictors of thromboembolism in patients with nonvalvular AF have been identified, but their mechanistic links remain unclear. TEE provides imaging of the left atrium, its appendage and the proximal thoracic aorta, potentially clarifying stroke mechanisms in patients with AF.
Methods: Cross-sectional analysis of TEE features correlated with low, moderate and high thromboembolic risk during aspirin therapy among 786 participants undergoing TEE on entry into the Stroke Prevention in Atrial Fibrillation III trial.
Results: TEE features independently associated with increased thromboembolic risk were appendage thrombi (relative risk [RR] 2.5, p = 0.04), dense spontaneous echo contrast (RR 3.7, p < 0.001), left atrial appendage peak flow velocities < or = 20 cm/s (RR 1.7, p = 0.008) and complex aortic plaque (RR 2.1, p < 0.001). Patients with AF with a history of hypertension (conferring moderate risk) more frequently had atrial appendage thrombi (RR 2.6, p < 0.001) and reduced flow velocity (RR 1.8, p = 0.003) than low risk patients. Among low risk patients, those with intermittent AF had similar TEE features to those with constant AF.
Conclusions: TEE findings indicative of atrial stasis or thrombosis and of aortic atheroma were independently associated with high thromboembolic risk in patients with AF. The increased stroke risk associated with a history of hypertension in AF appears to be mediated primarily through left atrial stasis and thrombi. The presence of complex aortic plaque distinguished patients with AF at high risk from those at moderate risk of thromboembolism.