Atrial fibrillation occurring transiently with stress

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Purpose of review

Atrial fibrillation may be detected in the setting of an acute stressor, such as medical illness or surgery. It is uncertain if atrial fibrillation detected in these settings (AFOTS: atrial fibrillation occurring transiently with stress) is secondary to a reversible trigger or is simply paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. This distinction is critical for clinicians, who must decide if AFOTS can be dismissed as a reversible phenomenon, or if it signals the need for chronic therapy; in particular, anticoagulation.

Recent findings

Published studies report incidences of AFOTS ranging from 1 to 44% in patients with acute medical illness and 1 to 35% following noncardiac surgery. The highest estimates have been reported in critically ill patients and in those undergoing continuous monitoring. A small number of studies have reported the recurrence of atrial fibrillation after AFOTS to be 55–68% within 5 years of medical illness and 37% within 1 year after noncardiac surgery. These studies are limited by retrospective design and low-sensitivity ascertainment.


AFOTS commonly occurs in patients with acute medical illness or in the postoperative state, and atrial fibrillation recurs in over 50% of individuals. Prospective postdischarge studies using sensitive atrial fibrillation detection strategies are needed to define the relationship between AFOTS and clinical atrial fibrillation.

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