Irregular Heartbeat Before Surgery May Raise Stroke Risk

Atrial fibrillation before noncardiac surgery raised stroke risk more than in cardiac surgery

(RxWiki News) Being hospitalized for surgery is enough to make the heart race. And new research suggests an abnormal heartbeat prior to surgery may raise the risk of stroke.

The recent study looked at the effects of atrial fibrillation (also known as an irregular heartbeat) on patients in the hospital for surgery.

The researchers found that an irregular heartbeat before surgery increased patients' long-term risk of stroke, particularly if the surgery was not heart-related.

"Tell your surgeon if you have an irregular heartbeat."

Along with colleagues at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, Gino Gialdini, MD, studied more than 1.7 million patients who underwent surgery between 2007 and 2010.

Doctors identified irregular heartbeats in 1.43 percent of the patients. Of these patients, 1.47 percent had a stroke within one year of being released from the hospital for surgery not related to the heart.

The stroke rate for those patients with irregular heartbeats who had heart-related surgery was lower, at 0.99 percent, the researchers noted.

"This could be useful in the detection of a high risk of stroke in patients after surgery," Dr. Gialdini told dailyRx News. "Very frequently, physicians don't consider brief atrial fibrillation clinically relevant, but we found that even brief atrial fibrillation could be very important."

The study authors found that patients who didn't have an irregular heartbeat before surgery fared better. Among those who had heart surgery, 0.83 percent had a stroke within one year, while 0.36 percent of those who had other surgeries had strokes.

The findings could increase patient awareness after surgery, Dr. Gialdini said.

"If patients are more aware of these risks, they could be more aware when monitoring themselves after surgery," he told dailyRx News. "This could be important information in the prevention of a catastrophic event like stroke."

Dr. Gialdini said more research could strengthen the findings.

The study was published in JAMA Aug. 12.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Ontario Provincial Office and the Feil Family Foundation.

Some of the study authors received research grants or served on advisory boards for companies like Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Boehringer Ingelheim.

Review Date: 
August 12, 2014