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Ann Emerg Med. 2011 Dec;58(6):517-20. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2011.06.014. Epub 2011 Jul 29.

Is discharge to home after emergency department cardioversion safe for the treatment of recent-onset atrial fibrillation?

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  • 1University of Pennsylvania, Department of Emergency Medicine, Philadelphia, USA.


Recent-onset atrial fibrillation, defined as a first detected or recurrent episode of atrial fibrillation lasting less than 48 hours, is a commonly encountered dysrhythmia in the emergency department (ED). Cardioversion of stable patients in the ED with recent-onset atrial fibrillation without antecedent anticoagulation would allow for these patients to be discharged directly to home. We searched the literature to determine whether any studies have investigated the safety of this management strategy and identified five that addressed this question. These studies are reviewed herein; importantly, not one ED patient who was cardioverted in any of the five studies suffered a thromboembolic event - the feared complication responsible for most of the controversy surrounding the ED management of atrial fibrillation. According to the available evidence, we conclude that it would be within the standard of care to discharge home stable patients with recent-onset atrial fibrillation after cardioversion in the ED with adequate follow-up. It should be noted that although this strategy is safe and effective, the return visit rate for relapsed atrial fibrillation is 3% to 17%, and patients should be made aware of this possibility.

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