Management of new onset atrial fibrillation in previously well patients less than 60 years of age


  • David McD Taylor, MD, MPH, DRCOG, FACEM, Director of Emergency Medicine Research; Anuradha Aggarwal, PhD, FRACP, Cardiologist; Michael Carter, BMedSci, Advanced Medical Science student; Devinder Garewal, BMedSci, Advanced Medical Science student; David Hunt, MD, FRACP, Cardiologist.

Associate Professor David McD Taylor, Emergency Department, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Grattan Street, Parkville, Vic. 3050, Australia. Email:


Objective:  This study reviewed the ED management of new onset atrial fibrillation (AF) in previously well patients aged less than 60 years.

Methods:  We undertook a retrospective review of ED patients from 1998 to 2002 inclusive. The main outcome measures were approaches to rate or rhythm control and anticoagulation, the use of echocardiography, the value of diagnostic testing and the frequency of hospital admission.

Results:  Fifty-two patients were identified. In general, all patients were haemodynamically stable. One patient had mild cardiac failure and one was clinically thyrotoxic. Serum potassium was measured in 51 (98%) patients, magnesium in 23 (44%) and cardiac enzymes in 30 (58%); results were generally unhelpful. Thyroid function tests were carried out in 40 (77%) patients; results were unremarkable except for the clinically thyrotoxic patient. No patient had echocardiography in the ED; however, 6 patients (12%) were later found to have major cardiac abnormalities. Forty-four (85%) patients received a variety of medications; 37 (71%) received an anti-arrhythmic and 24 (46%) an antithrombotic. Overall, 17 (33%) patients received theoretically effective therapy for conversion to sinus rhythm. Twenty-two (42%) patients were admitted to hospital.

Conclusions:  This study reveals variation in the management of acute AF in previously well, haemodynamically stable, young patients. Pathology testing was frequently carried out with a low yield. There were high rates of attempts to cardiovert, use of antithrombotics and of admission to hospital. Although cardioversion attempts appeared to be contrary to existing guidelines, decisions may have been based primarily on patient symptoms. Echocardiography should be considered prior to anti-arrhythmic therapy.