Emergency medicine considerations in atrial fibrillation

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Abstract

Background

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an abnormal heart rhythm which may lead to stroke, heart failure, and death. Emergency physicians play a role in diagnosing AF, managing symptoms, and lessening complications from this dysrhythmia.

Objective

This review evaluates recent literature and addresses ED considerations in the management of AF.

Discussion

Emergency physicians should first assess patient clinical stability and evaluate and treat reversible causes. Immediate cardioversion is indicated in the hemodynamically unstable patient. The American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology, the European Society of Cardiology, and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society provide recommendations for management of AF. If hemodynamically stable, rate or rhythm control are options for management of AF. Physicians may opt for rate control with medications, with beta blockers and calcium channel blockers the predominant medications utilized in the ED. Patients with intact left ventricular function should be rate controlled to <110 beats per minute. Rhythm control is an option for patients who possess longer life expectancy and those with AF onset <48 h before presentation, anticoagulated for 3–4 weeks, or with transesophageal echocardiography demonstrating no intracardiac thrombus. Direct oral anticoagulants are a safe and reliable option for anticoagulation. Clinical judgment regarding disposition is recommended, but literature supports discharging stable patients who do not have certain comorbidities.

Conclusion

Proper diagnosis and treatment of AF is essential to reduce complications. Treatment and overall management of AF include rate or rhythm control, cardioversion, anticoagulation, and admission versus discharge. This review discusses ED considerations regarding AF management.

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