New-onset as opposed to established atrial fibrillation as a risk factor for incident stroke

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Clinical neurology and neurosurgery


BACKGROUND: Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an established risk factor for acute ischemic stroke (AIS). It remains unclear if new-onset AF confers a higher risk of AIS than longer-standing AF.

METHODS: We retrospectively analyzed all stroke-free patients who underwent transthoracic echocardiography (TTE) in the Henry Ford Health System between March 6 and September 6, 2016. Incident AIS and new-onset AF were ascertained by the presence of new diagnostic codes in the electronic medical record over a follow-up period of up to 5 years. Cox proportional hazards regression was used to identify risk factors for new-onset AF or AIS.

RESULTS: Of 7310 patients who underwent baseline TTE the mean age was 65 years, 54% were female, 51% were Caucasian, and 46% had left atrial enlargement (LAE). Of at-risk patients, 10.9% developed new-onset AF and 2.9% experienced incident AIS. The risk of new-onset AF among at-risk patients was 3.1 times higher among patients with any degree of LAE compared to those with normal LA size (95% CI 2.6-3.6, P < 0.0001). New-onset AF, more than established AF, in turn had a powerful association with incident AIS. The cumulative 5-year risk of AIS was 3.5% in those without AF, 5.9% in those with established AF prior to TTE, and 20.1% in those with new-onset AF (P < 0.0001). In multivariable analysis new-onset AF had the strongest association with incident AIS (P < 0.0001), followed by increasing age (P = 0.0025), black race (P = 0.0032), and smoking (P = 0.0063).

CONCLUSIONS: New-onset AF has a strong relationship with incident AIS. LAE was present in nearly half of stroke-free patients undergoing TTE, and was associated with a significantly higher likelihood of new-onset AF during follow-up. Vigilant cardiac monitoring for AF in individuals with LAE, coupled with the timely initiation of anticoagulation, may be an important strategy for the primary prevention of AF-related stroke.

Medical Subject Headings

Humans; Female; Aged; Male; Atrial Fibrillation; Ischemic Stroke; Retrospective Studies; Stroke; Risk Factors; Cardiomyopathies

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