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Ann Surg. 1997 Oct;226(4):501-11; discussion 511-3.

Atrial fibrillation after cardiac surgery: a major morbid event?

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  • 1Zablocki VA Medical Center and Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee 53226, USA.



The purpose of the study was to investigate the incidence, predictors, morbidity, and mortality associated with postoperative atrial fibrillation (AF) and its impact on intensive care unit (ICU) and postoperative hospital stay in patients undergoing cardiac surgery in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).


Postoperative AF after open cardiac surgery is rather common. The etiology of this arrhythmia and factors responsible for its genesis are unclear, and its impact on postoperative surgical outcomes remains controversial. The purpose of this special substudy was to elucidate the incidence of postoperative AF and the factors associated with its development, as well as the impact of AF on surgical outcome.


The study population consisted of 3855 patients who underwent open cardiac surgery between September 1993 and December 1996 at 14 VA Medical Centers. Three hundred twenty-nine additional patients were excluded because of lack of complete data or presence of AF before surgery, and 3794 (98.4%) were male with a mean age of 63.7+/-9.6 years. Operations included coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) (3126, 81%), CABG + AVR (aortic valve replacement) (228, 5.9%), CABG + MVR (mitral valve replacement) (35, 0.9%), AVR (231, 6%), MVR (41, 1.06%), CABG + others (95, 2.46%), and others (99, 2.5%). The incidence of postoperative AF was 29.6%. Multivariate logistic regression analysis of factors found significant on univariate analysis showed the following predictors of postoperative AF: preoperative patient risk predictors: advancing age (odds ratio [OR] 1.61, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.48-1.75, p < 0.001), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (OR 1.37, 95% CI 1.12-1.66, p < 0.001), use of digoxin within 2 weeks before surgery (OR 1.37, 95% CI 1.10-1.70, p < 0.003), low resting pulse rate <80 (OR 1.26, 95% CI 1.06-1.51, p < 0.009), high resting systolic blood pressure >120 (OR 1.19, 95% CI 1.02-1.40, p < 0.026), intraoperative process of care predictors: cardiac venting via right superior pulmonary vein (OR 1.42, 95% CI 1.21-1.67, p < 0.0001), mitral valve repair (OR 2.86, 95% CI 1.72-4.73, p < 0.0001) and replacement (OR 2.33, 95% CI 1.55-3.55, p < 0.0001), no use of topical ice slush (OR 1.29, 95% CI 1.10-1.49, p < 0.0009), and use of inotropic agents for greater than 30 minutes after termination of cardiopulmonary bypass (OR 1.36, 95% CI 1.16-1.59, p < 0.0001). Postoperative median ICU stay (3.6 days AF vs. 2 days no AF, p < 0.001) and hospital stay (10 days AF vs. 7 days no AF, p < 0.001) were higher in AF. Morbid events, hospital mortality, and 6-month mortality were significantly higher in AF (p < 0.001): ICU readmission 13% AF vs. 3.9% no AF, perioperative myocardial infarction 7.41 % AF vs. 3.36% no AF, persistent congestive heart failure 4.57% AF vs. 1.4% no AF, reintubation 10.59% AF vs. 2.47% no AF, stroke 5.26% AF vs. 2.44% no AF, hospital mortality 5.95% AF vs. 2.95% no AF, 6-month mortality 9.36% AF vs. 4.17% no AF.


Atrial fibrillation after cardiac surgery occurs in approximately one third of patients and is associated with an increase in adverse events in all measurable outcomes of care and increases the use of hospital resources and, therefore, the cost of care. Strategies to reduce the incidence of AF after cardiac surgery should favorably affect surgical outcomes and reduce utilization of resources and thus lower cost of care.

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