A review and analysis of strategies for prediction, prevention and management of post-operative atrial fibrillation after non-cardiac thoracic surgery

Heather Smith, Ching Yeung, Stephen Gowing, Mouhannad Sadek, Donna Maziak, Sebastien Gilbert, Farid Shamji, Patrick Villeneuve, Sudhir Sundaresan, Andrew Seely


Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common sustained arrhythmia after non-cardiac thoracic surgery and is associated with a significant increase in perioperative morbidity, intensive care unit (ICU) admission, and mortality. Practical guidance is needed to assist clinicians in managing this critical issue and direct further research. Here we aim to provide a synoptic review and analysis of the literature to distil practical recommendations for prediction, prevention and management of post-operative atrial fibrillation (POAF) suitable for clinical application and further evaluation. To predict POAF, risk factors including age, gender, elevated pre-operative heart rate and extent of surgical resection have been reproducibly identified and integrated into scoring systems. To prevent POAF, prophylactic therapy with beta-blockers, amiodarone, or magnesium have demonstrated to be effective, but need further trials in high-risk populations. To manage unstable POAF that precipitates hypotension and hypoperfusion, although rare, requires immediate electrocardioversion to restore cardiac output and adequate oxygen delivery. For hemodynamically stable patients, rate control and prevention of adverse events are the objectives. We propose an individualized approach aimed at rate control using initial incremental low dose beta-blocker or calcium channel blocker (CCB) therapy with close monitoring of a patient’s response, and continuation of the drug that they respond to, along with simultaneous identification and reduction of triggers of AF, in order for spontaneous return to sinus rhythm. For patients who persistently fail to respond to rate control therapy, rhythm control may be considered using an agent selected based on the patient’s comorbidities and the medications’ side effect profile. While controversial and requiring further study, anticoagulation therapy is recommended in patients with risk factors for thromboembolic events after 48 hours of persistent AF. We recommend continuous prospective monitoring of incidence and severity of POAF to track the impact of protocols to predict, prevent and manage POAF.