The complexity of atrial fibrillation newly diagnosed after ischemic stroke and transient ischemic attack: advances and uncertainties

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Atrial fibrillation is being increasingly diagnosed after ischemic stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA). Patient characteristics, frequency and duration of paroxysms, and the risk of recurrent ischemic stroke associated with atrial fibrillation detected after stroke and TIA (AFDAS) may differ from atrial fibrillation already known before stroke occurrence. We aim to summarize major recent advances in the field, in the context of prior evidence, and to identify areas of uncertainty to be addressed in future research.

Recent findings

Half of all atrial fibrillations in ischemic stroke and TIA patients are AFDAS, and most of them are asymptomatic. Over 50% of AFDAS paroxysms last less than 30 s. The rapid initiation of cardiac monitoring and its duration are crucial for its timely and effective detection. AFDAS comprises a heterogeneous mix of atrial fibrillation, possibly including cardiogenic and neurogenic types, and a mix of both. Over 25 single markers and at least 10 scores have been proposed as predictors of AFDAS. However, there are considerable inconsistencies across studies. The role of AFDAS burden and its associated risk of stroke recurrence have not yet been investigated.

Summary

AFDAS may differ from atrial fibrillation known before stroke in several clinical dimensions, which are important for optimal patient care strategies. Many questions remain unanswered. Neurogenic and cardiogenic AFDAS need to be characterized, as it may be possible to avoid some neurogenic cases by initiating timely preventive treatments. AFDAS burden may differ in ischemic stroke and TIA patients, with distinctive diagnostic and treatment implications. The prognosis of AFDAS and its risk of recurrent stroke are still unknown; therefore, it is uncertain whether AFDAS patients should be treated with oral anticoagulants.

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