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Can J Neurol Sci. 2000 Feb;27(1):25-31.

Use of ambulatory electrocardiography for the detection of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation in patients with stroke. Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Canada.



Patients with stroke commonly undergo investigations to determine the underlying cause of stroke. These investigations often include ambulatory electrocardiography to detect paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. There is conflicting evidence in the literature regarding whether routine ambulatory electrocardiography should be performed in all or selected stroke patients. This paper reviews the available evidence on (1) the yield of ambulatory electrocardiography in detecting paroxysmal atrial fibrillation in patients with stroke or transient ischemic attack and (2) the effectiveness of anticoagulation in preventing recurrent stroke in patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation.


A MEDLINE search for primary articles was performed, and the references were reviewed manually. In addition, citations were obtained from experts. The evidence was systematically reviewed using the evidence-based methodology of the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care.


Ambulatory electrocardiography can detect atrial fibrillation not found on initial electrocardiogram in between 1% and 5% of people with stroke. Ambulatory electrocardiography is generally safe. The risk of recurrent stroke in the setting of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation is uncertain, but appears to be similar to that seen with chronic atrial fibrillation (about 12% per year). Therapy with warfarin may reduce this risk by about two-thirds as compared to placebo. The annual risk of major bleeding with warfarin therapy is between 1% and 3% but rates for individual patients depend on various specific risk factors.


There is insufficient evidence to recommend for or against the use of ambulatory electrocardiography for the detection of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation in either selected or unselected patients with stroke (C Recommendation). There is fair evidence to recommend therapy with warfarin for patients with stroke and paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (B Recommendation).

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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