Health Technol Assess. 2021 Nov;25(71):1-174. doi: 10.3310/hta25710.
BACKGROUND: New-onset atrial fibrillation occurs in around 10% of adults treated in an intensive care unit. New-onset atrial fibrillation may lead to cardiovascular instability and thromboembolism, and has been independently associated with increased length of hospital stay and mortality. The long-term consequences are unclear. Current practice guidance is based on patients outside the intensive care unit; however, new-onset atrial fibrillation that develops while in an intensive care unit differs in its causes and the risks and clinical effectiveness of treatments. The lack of evidence on new-onset atrial fibrillation treatment or long-term outcomes in intensive care units means that practice varies. Identifying optimal treatment strategies and defining long-term outcomes are critical to improving care.
OBJECTIVES: In patients treated in an intensive care unit, the objectives were to (1) evaluate existing evidence for the clinical effectiveness and safety of pharmacological and non-pharmacological new-onset atrial fibrillation treatments, (2) compare the use and clinical effectiveness of pharmacological and non-pharmacological new-onset atrial fibrillation treatments, and (3) determine outcomes associated with new-onset atrial fibrillation.
METHODS: We undertook a scoping review that included studies of interventions for treatment or prevention of new-onset atrial fibrillation involving adults in general intensive care units. To investigate the long-term outcomes associated with new-onset atrial fibrillation, we carried out a retrospective cohort study using English national intensive care audit data linked to national hospital episode and outcome data. To analyse the clinical effectiveness of different new-onset atrial fibrillation treatments, we undertook a retrospective cohort study of two large intensive care unit databases in the USA and the UK.
RESULTS: Existing evidence was generally of low quality, with limited data suggesting that beta-blockers might be more effective than amiodarone for converting new-onset atrial fibrillation to sinus rhythm and for reducing mortality. Using linked audit data, we showed that patients developing new-onset atrial fibrillation have more comorbidities than those who do not. After controlling for these differences, patients with new-onset atrial fibrillation had substantially higher mortality in hospital and during the first 90 days after discharge (adjusted odds ratio 2.32, 95% confidence interval 2.16 to 2.48; adjusted hazard ratio 1.46, 95% confidence interval 1.26 to 1.70, respectively), and higher rates of subsequent hospitalisation with atrial fibrillation, stroke and heart failure (adjusted cause-specific hazard ratio 5.86, 95% confidence interval 5.33 to 6.44; adjusted cause-specific hazard ratio 1.47, 95% confidence interval 1.12 to 1.93; and adjusted cause-specific hazard ratio 1.28, 95% confidence interval 1.14 to 1.44, respectively), than patients who did not have new-onset atrial fibrillation. From intensive care unit data, we found that new-onset atrial fibrillation occurred in 952 out of 8367 (11.4%) UK and 1065 out of 18,559 (5.7%) US intensive care unit patients in our study. The median time to onset of new-onset atrial fibrillation in patients who received treatment was 40 hours, with a median duration of 14.4 hours. The clinical characteristics of patients developing new-onset atrial fibrillation were similar in both databases. New-onset atrial fibrillation was associated with significant average reductions in systolic blood pressure of 5 mmHg, despite significant increases in vasoactive medication (vasoactive-inotropic score increase of 2.3; p < 0.001). After adjustment, intravenous beta-blockers were not more effective than amiodarone in achieving rate control (adjusted hazard ratio 1.14, 95% confidence interval 0.91 to 1.44) or rhythm control (adjusted hazard ratio 0.86, 95% confidence interval 0.67 to 1.11). Digoxin therapy was associated with a lower probability of achieving rate control (adjusted hazard ratio 0.52, 95% confidence interval 0.32 to 0.86) and calcium channel blocker therapy was associated with a lower probability of achieving rhythm control (adjusted hazard ratio 0.56, 95% confidence interval 0.39 to 0.79) than amiodarone. Findings were consistent across both the combined and the individual database analyses.
CONCLUSIONS: Existing evidence for new-onset atrial fibrillation management in intensive care unit patients is limited. New-onset atrial fibrillation in these patients is common and is associated with significant short- and long-term complications. Beta-blockers and amiodarone appear to be similarly effective in achieving cardiovascular control, but digoxin and calcium channel blockers appear to be inferior.
FUTURE WORK: Our findings suggest that a randomised controlled trial of amiodarone and beta-blockers for management of new-onset atrial fibrillation in critically ill patients should be undertaken. Studies should also be undertaken to provide evidence for or against anticoagulation for patients who develop new-onset atrial fibrillation in intensive care units. Finally, given that readmission with heart failure and thromboembolism increases following an episode of new-onset atrial fibrillation while in an intensive care unit, a prospective cohort study to demonstrate the incidence of atrial fibrillation and/or left ventricular dysfunction at hospital discharge and at 3 months following the development of new-onset atrial fibrillation should be undertaken.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN13252515.
FUNDING: This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 25, No. 71. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.