Background: Patients with atrial fibrillation sustain a significant lower exercise tolerance compared to those in sinus rhythm, even while seemingly in adequate rate-control.
Methods: Exercise testing was performed during atrial fibrillation and after electric cardioversion for 30 patients who were initially treated with AV modifying agents and were considered in adequate rate control. Heart rate parameters were obtained during all exercise stages, and a graphic display of heart rate acceleration was obtained. For those patients who remained in sinus rhythm, an additional exercise test was performed after 1 month.
Results: During atrial fibrillation, heart rate at the completion of Bruce stage 1 and the peak exercise heart rate were significantly higher when compared to sinus rhythm (120 ± 10 bpm vs. 98 ± 11 bpm and 164 ± 16 bpm vs. 129 ± 11 bpm respectively, p < 0.001 for both). The time to peak exercise heart rate was significantly shorter during atrial fibrillation (3.5 ± 1 min vs. 6.5 ± 1.5 min, p < 0.001), and the total exercise duration was subsequently shorter as well (6 ± 2 min vs. 8.5 ± 2 min, p < 0.001). Treatment with beta-blockers prior to exercise did not affect the earlier peaking of the heart rate. After 1 month, similar time to peak heart rate and similar exercise performance were observed among patients, who remained in sinus rhythm, when compared to to the post-cardioversion exercise test.
Conclusions: In patients with atrial fibrillation, exercise heart rate acceleration displays a specific pattern of early peaking. Earlier heart rate peaking occurs regardless of ample rate control while at rest or mild physical activity and contributes to overall lower exercise performance.
Ann Noninvasive Electrocardiol 2011;16(4):357–364