UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Critical Care

Title: Atrial Fibrillation in Critically Ill Patients

Keywords: Atrial Fibrillation, sepsis, critical care, cardioversion, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, rate control, rhythm control (PubMed Search)

Posted: 9/3/2019 by Robert Brown, MD (Updated: 9/23/2019)
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Takeaways

One third of your critically ill patients will have atrial fibrillation. 

More than one third of those patients will develop immediate hypotension because of it.

More than one in ten will develop ischemia or heart failure because of it.

This is what you should know for your next shift:

#1 Don't wait to use electricity. If your patient is hypotensive or ischemic because of atrial fibrillation, you do not need to wait for anticoagulation before you cardiovert.

#2 Electricity buys you time to load meds. Fewer than half of patients you cardiovert will be in sinus rhythm an hour later and fewer than a quarter at the end of a day.

#3 There is no perfect rate control agent. Beta blockers have a lower mortality in A-fib from sepsis. Esmolol has the benefit of being short-acting if you cause hypotension. Diltiazem has better sustained control than amiodarone or digoxin. 

#4 There is no perfect rhythm control agent. Magnesium is first-line in guidelines. Amiodarone can be used even when there is coronary artery or structural heart disease.

#5 Anticoagulation is controversial. In sepsis, anticoagulation does not reduce the rate of in-hospital stroke, but does increase the risk of bleeding. Use with caution if cardioversion isn't planned.

 

In-Depth

References

Bosch N, Cimini J, Walkey A. Atrial Fibrillation in the ICU. CHEST 2018; 154(6):1424-1434