Posts Tagged ‘atrial fibrillation’

This is a real life experience of  a patient who underwent a electrophysiology study and   ablation   procedure for atrial fibrillation  .The blog describes  how the procedure became a nightmare .Written in a  most  readable fashion .  Interventional cardiologists need  not get hurt by this  narration  instead  they should  do a  reality check on the dangers  of  the some  of the  complex  procedures !

Adventures in Cardiology

Click over the  image to  read the real  time experience of   Pulmonary vein  ablation

Image courtesy Mayo clinic

The message from the above story  :

  • Atrial fibrillation is  one of the  relatively  benign  cardiac arrhythmia , that  can be treated  with   simple and effective  drugs . Now we have strong evidence to say rate control is equally , if not more effective than the rhythm control  modalities .
  • The RF  ablation  , which aims at rhythm control  is a too complex a procedure with  lots of expertise  technology  .
  • This should be  reserved  as a last resort  in an occasional patient who had exhausted all other  options .
  • Patients should  realise ,  the consent forms they sign  before any new and innovative  procedure is always  incomplete and  he may be the first person to experience  a new complication  hitherto unreported .
  • A cath lab is run by a team ,  you can’t  expect  the chief doctor to be on your  side always.   Many of the procedures  are  done by either experienced or inexperienced  fellows . That’s  only the  way medicine  can be practiced !
  • So beware all patients , many times, modern medicine is nothing but  experiments on live humans  !

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P waves represent atrial depolarisation. The p wave height  and width depends not only the size of the RA and LA but also the site of  origin of atrial  impulse .A normal SA nodal origin of P wave produce the normal shaped p waves.

We know  ectopic  p waves can have a wide variation of morphology.(Fully inverted, partially inverted, slurred, bi phasic, notched, rounded , deformed, etc. The morphology is dictated by the direction of p wave vector and thus it is quite variable in different leads. Further  it is also determined by the inter atrial and intra atrial conduction.So in summary , an ectopic p wave can have any morphology we can think off !

What is isoelctric P waves

It is rather a surprise we have not thought about so long,   like a low voltage QRS ,  a  p wave can also be very low amplitude and it may be entirely isoelectric , which could actually mean the p waves are as good as absent.This can happen in all leads or in few leads. .Atria gets electrically activated but fails to inscribe a p wave .This is termed as isoelectric p waves

The importance of isoelectric p waves

It  can  happen , both  in sinus rhythm  and in ectopic atrial rhythm . Absent p waves should be differentiated form isoelectric p waves. It is typically described in focal atrial rhythm arising from the right side  of  the  inter atrial septal near the   perinodal  tissue.The atrial tachycardias arising from this site are classically have isoelectric p waves in most of the leads especially  V1 .

Other causes of absent p waves

  • Atrial fibrillation

The classical example .in fact here p waves are replaced by fine or coarse fibillatory waves

  • Sinus arrest  plus Junctional rhythm with retrograde VA block

Not all junctional rhythm result in absent p waves .Many record inverted retrograde p if there is VA                            conduction.

  • Sino ventricular conduction .P waves appears  absent in surface ECG. It occurs in hyperkalemia /renal failure is due to high levels of pottassium   which suppress the atrial activity sort of atrial electrical paralysis but still impulse originates in SA node traverses  the inter atrial pathway and reach ventricles.typically P waves are absent or can be termed isolectric.
  • Atrial  stunning following cardioversion

Long standing atrial tacycardias may fail to resume it’s mechanical (or even electrical ) activity after  cardiversion  .If it is electrical stunning the p waves do not immediately appear  but occurs later .In fact this could be termed as failed cardioversion.

* Note  p waves are failed to identified in many of the VTs AVNRTs

Final message

Absent p waves ,  isoelectric p waves , hidden p waves, merged p waves , low voltage p waves , unrecorded p waves,  selective absence of p waves in some leads all can happen in clinical cardiology practice.

One should realise the importance  differentiating   absence of   p waves in the given strip of ECG from failure of p waves to  get recorded by the  ECG machine .This has diagnostic significance.

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Ventricular fibrillation is invariably fatal if not treated . When can atrial fibrillation be fatal ? 

                                     Atrial fibrillation is relatively a benign arrhythmia especially when it occurs in isolation with  structurally normal heart.This is sometimes referred to lone atrial fibrillation . Even otherwise, atrial fibrillation is rarely fatal except in few situations.But AF commonly destabilises the patient  who have baseline valvular or myocardial disease.(Post MI, dilated cardiomyopathy etc)

There are few situations where AF can be life threatening

  • In patients  with WPW syndrome*where , AF  enters into a electrical short  circuit , downhill to enter the ventricle and make it fire at the same rate as that of atria . ( ie 400-600) and result in ventricular  fibrillation.Note , even here it is the VF that kills  not , AF per se.
  • AF in acute MI  often precipitates LVF , but rarely fatal.
  • In patients with critical aortic stenosis, or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, sudden onset of AF can result in acute cardiac failure.
  • AF is often a terminal event in primary pulmonary hypertension

While atrial fibrillation is  less likely to cause  death , it is  a highly morbid arrhythmia .It is one of important cause of stroke in elderly as well as young !

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                              Cardioversion with DC shock  offers immediate cure in many of the dangerous ventricular and atrial tachycardias.  It is often  taught ,  any hemodynamically unstable tachycardia  refractory to  medical therapy respond to electrical cardioversion.  One should also  remember electricity is in fact be called  as a drug !  and it should be delivered in proper form and dose. Here it is the paddle size, paddle position and the axis of current flow all are important. Now we have bi phasic currents for better efficacy.

                             While it is true, most of cardiac arrhythmias respond to shock,  there are few which do not respond or respond very transiently.There are few arrhythmias  in which ,DC shock is not only ineffective but may precipitate a ventricular  fibrillation.

                            Generally arrhythmias of reentrant etiology respond well to DC shock were interuption of  electrical circuit by external current is easily possible. In arrhythmia’s of enhanced automaticity ,  and ectopic tachycardia  it is difficult  to extinguish  the tachycardia focus with DC shock .

Arrhythmias where DC shock is not going to work are

A. Mutifocal atrial tachycardia(MAT)

B. Digoxin induced arrhythmias.Patients who are on digoxin,  has  enhanced ventricular  automaticity.These patients if they  get a DC shock will unmask the  ectopic foci.

C. In elderly with atrial fibrillation and sinus node dysfunction it may be dangerous to shock them with out temporary pacing support as sinus node goes for prolonged sleep mode.

D.In electrical storm with VT ,  if more than three shocks are required within a minute,  the VT will most often going to be permanent and the  electrical therapy can be termed as a failure. These patients will require intensive pharmacological management( Including magnesium, bretyllium etc)

E. And finally , sinus tachycardia (whatever the rate)  is an absolute contraindication for DC shock.

 Verapmil is often effective in MAT  but correction of hypoxia and acidosis may be critical.For digoxin induced arrhythmias phenytoin may be tried.

What to do when the DC shock fails?

  • It will be a  tricky situation and one wonder what to do next when the so called  universal antidote for cardiac arrhythmia fails !
  • Cellular internal millieu  is altered  by hypoxia and acidosis .It may prevent the  effectiveness of cardioversion.So try to correct them .
  • Over dirve atrial  pacing  is one option for automatic tachycardia.
  • And now ablation of arrhythmic focus is possible with radio frequency waves  in some of these patients.( Diffiuclt as an emergency procedure)

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The debate of rate control verses rhythm control in atrial fibrillation  goes on and on. The AFFIRM, RACE,PIAF, STAF the HOT CAFE all went against sinus rhythm in the last 10 years . This was one of the settled contoversies in cardiology . The conclusion was ventricular  rate control was no way inferior to rhythm control in patients with SHT, CAD population .This made the electrophyiologists wonder how can a natural rhythm fare bad ! . But the findings  were consistent .Rhythm control neither improved the quality of life nor  it reduced the incidence of stroke. The later finding was very surprising but the explanation was convincing as stroke in elderly was more related to SHT, CAD, DM etc than  AF itself. The source of emboli in ischemic stroke could come any where distal to LA .The big assumtion that all strokes in elderly  should come from LA appendage or the body  of LA was  premature and  wrong. What prevented stroke in AF was not restoration of SR but administration of oral anticoagulants with adequate INR.(2-3)

Having failed to document superiority in elderly  population   , the  logic machine  strongly suggested restoring SR  in patients with CHF,  will atleast provide hemodynamic and also survival  benefit .

And thus came the AF-CHF trial  published in NEJM 2008

Alas !  AF-CHF  also found there is no useful purpose of restoring sinus rhythm in patients  with atrial fibrillation and cardiac failure. In fact patients in SR fared little worse !

 Why . . .  why . . . why ?

Should we ask the seemingly absurd question !

Is sinus rhythm poorly tolerated by cardiac failure  patients ?

It is some times possible atrial fibrillation by itself could be a mechanism to amplify the  cardiac reserve by which it provides a  relatively high ventricular rate to improve the cardiac index  . Even though the optimal ventricular rate in AF is around 80-90 at times of need it has to increase to 120-130. Patients in class 3 CHF and AF often achieve this in times of demand .This is not possible in patients who are getting rhythm control drugs and further patients in SR can  not increase the HR suddenly from 80 -130  .

So is this a  wild imagination !   AF could be a safety valve mechanism in CHF to increase the HR . Where the atria come to the rescue of ventricle like a rate adaptive pacemaker .

The other logical* ! argument is that  there  is nothing wrong with restoring  SR , but the  methods to achieve and  maintain SR  is too cumbersome and results in adverse outcome .The currently available  drugs are too toxic for the purpose  .

If we have a simple and safe way to restore SR in these patients it should always be superior to AF .

But it is a well  known fact  that , whatever be the rhythm or rate the ultimate outcome will be dictated by the LV function, mitral valve function etc.

 Read abstract of AF-CHF

Rhythm Control versus Rate Control for Atrial Fibrillation and Heart Failure

Denis Roy, M.D., Mario Talajic, M.D., Stanley Nattel, M.D., ., for the Atrial Fibrillation and Congestive Heart Failure Investigators


Rhythm Control versus Rate Control for Atrial Fibrillation and Heart Failure

Denis Roy, M.D., Mario Talajic, M.D., Stanley Nattel, M.D.,  the Atrial Fibrillation and Congestive Heart Failure Investigators* –>ABSTRACT

Background It is common practice to restore and maintain sinus rhythm in patients with atrial fibrillation and heart failure. This approach is based in part on data indicating that atrial fibrillation is a predictor of death in patients with heart failure and suggesting that the suppression of atrial fibrillation may favorably affect the outcome. However, the benefits and risks of this approach have not been adequately studied. Methods We conducted a multicenter, randomized trial comparing the maintenance of sinus rhythm (rhythm control) with control of the ventricular rate (rate control) in patients with a left ventricular ejection fraction of 35% or less, symptoms of congestive heart failure, and a history of atrial fibrillation. The primary outcome was the time to death from cardiovascular causes.
Results A total of 1376 patients were enrolled (682 in the rhythm-control group and 694 in the rate-control group) and were followed for a mean of 37 months. Of these patients, 182 (27%) in the rhythm-control group died from cardiovascular causes, as compared with 175 (25%) in the rate-control group (hazard ratio in the rhythm-control group, 1.06; 95% confidence interval, 0.86 to 1.30; P=0.59 by the log-rank test). Secondary outcomes were similar in the two groups, including death from any cause (32% in the rhythm-control group and 33% in the rate-control group), stroke (3% and 4%, respectively), worsening heart failure (28% and 31%), and the composite of death from cardiovascular causes, stroke, or worsening heart failure (43% and 46%). There were also no significant differences favoring either strategy in any predefined subgroup.
Conclusions In patients with atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure, a routine strategy of rhythm control does not reduce the rate of death from cardiovascular causes, as compared with a rate-control strategy.








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Pulse deficit is a clinical sign wherein , one is able to find a difference in count between heart beat (Apical beat or Heart sounds ) and  peripheral pulse .This occurs even as the heart is  contracting , the pulse is not reaching the periphery.This can occur in few clinical situations .

1 . Atrial fibrillation.

2. Very early diastolic  ventricular  ectopic beats

3. Some patients with Pacemaker.

The mechanism is  , the ventricular contractions are  too weak and unable to open the aortic valve  , but at the same time they are good enough to close the mitral valve. To open the aortic valve it has to generate atleast 60-80 mmhg pressure , while mitral valve closes even  as LV generates  8-14mmhg  .(LV/LA pressure cross over). So intermitently the  second heart sound  is missed while S1 is retained,  producing more heart sounds and less pulse count in the periphery. The S1 is either felt or heard at the apex but the corresponding pulse is missing . Further , this intermittent absence of  S2  results in totally irregular S1 /S 2 relation.

Why some of the contractions of LV is too weak to open the aortic valve ?

Because the RR interval varies , the ventricular filling also varies , diastole duration is constantly changing some of the diastole are too short  and LV hardly gets filled , as the LV force of contraction is directly decided by the LVEDV and LV  fibre length these contractions are too weak. 

Other published studies

There has been some doppler observations ,where there is a midventricular LV blood flow reversal in atrial fibrillation that could  explain the pulse deficit . Mechanism of production of pulse deficit in atrial fibrillation: assessment by blood flow dynamics

Second Department of Internal Medicine, Kagoshima University School of Medicine.


What is the clinical significance of pulse deficit ?

                                  Currently there is no great clinical significance of this phenomenon. But an astute clinician will pick up this sign and it may indicate underlying LV dysfunction. In patients with PPM,  pulse deficit  suggests  pacemaker malfunction .Some patients with cardiac tamponade &  pulsus paradoxus  systolic  blood pressure falls too low to make the pulse feeble or not palpable in the periphery .This situation may mimic a pulse deficit if not recognised.

 Dr.S.Venkatesan ,Madras Medical College , Chennai, India

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