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Abstract

Importance  Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), and its prevalence increases with age, affecting about 3% of men and 2% of women aged 65 to 69 years and about 10% of adults 85 years and older. Atrial fibrillation is a major risk factor for ischemic stroke, increasing risk of stroke by as much as 5-fold. Approximately 20% of patients who have a stroke associated with atrial fibrillation are first diagnosed with atrial fibrillation at the time of stroke or shortly thereafter.

Objective  To issue a new US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendation on screening for atrial fibrillation with electrocardiography (ECG).

Evidence Review  The USPSTF reviewed the evidence on the benefits and harms of screening for atrial fibrillation with ECG in adults 65 years and older, the effectiveness of screening with ECG for detecting previously undiagnosed atrial fibrillation compared with usual care, and the benefits and harms of anticoagulant or antiplatelet therapy for the treatment of screen-detected atrial fibrillation in older adults.

Findings  Most older adults with previously undiagnosed atrial fibrillation have a stroke risk above the threshold for anticoagulant therapy and would be eligible for treatment. Anticoagulant therapy is effective for stroke prevention in symptomatic persons with atrial fibrillation and high stroke risk. However, the USPSTF found inadequate evidence to determine whether screening with ECG and subsequent treatment in asymptomatic adults is more effective than usual care. At the same time, the harms of diagnostic follow-up and treatment prompted by abnormal ECG results are well established and include misdiagnosis and invasive testing. Given these uncertainties, it is not possible to determine the net benefit of screening with ECG.

Conclusions and Recommendation  The USPSTF concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening for atrial fibrillation with ECG. (I statement)

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Article Information

Corresponding Author: Susan J. Curry, PhD, University of Iowa, 111 Jessup Hall, Iowa City, IA 52242 (chair@uspstf.net).

Accepted for Publication: June 27, 2018.

The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) members: Susan J. Curry, PhD; Alex H. Krist, MD, MPH; Douglas K. Owens, MD, MS; Michael J. Barry, MD; Aaron B. Caughey, MD, PhD; Karina W. Davidson, PhD, MASc; Chyke A. Doubeni, MD, MPH; John W. Epling Jr, MD, MSEd; Alex R. Kemper, MD, MPH, MS; Martha Kubik, PhD, RN; C. Seth Landefeld, MD; Carol M. Mangione, MD, MSPH; Michael Silverstein, MD, MPH; Melissa A. Simon, MD, MPH; Chien-Wen Tseng, MD, MPH, MSEE; John B. Wong, MD.

Affiliations of The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) members: University of Iowa, Iowa City (Curry); Fairfax Family Practice Residency, Fairfax, Virginia (Krist); Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond (Krist); Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, Palo Alto, California (Owens); Stanford University, Stanford, California (Owens); Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts (Barry); Oregon Health & Science University, Portland (Caughey); Columbia University, New York, New York (Davidson); University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (Doubeni); Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, Roanoke (Epling); Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, Ohio (Kemper); Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Kubik); University of Alabama at Birmingham (Landefeld); University of California, Los Angeles (Mangione); Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts (Silverstein); Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois (Simon); University of Hawaii, Honolulu (Tseng); Pacific Health Research and Education Institute, Honolulu, Hawaii (Tseng); Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts (Wong).

Author Contributions: Dr Curry had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. The USPSTF members contributed equally to the recommendation statement.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: All authors have completed and submitted the ICMJE Form for Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest. All members of the USPSTF receive travel reimbursement and an honorarium for participating in USPSTF meetings. No other disclosures were reported.

Funding/Support: The USPSTF is an independent, voluntary body. The US Congress mandates that the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) support the operations of the USPSTF.

Role of the Funder/Sponsor: AHRQ staff assisted in the following: development and review of the research plan, commission of the systematic evidence review from an Evidence-based Practice Center, coordination of expert review and public comment of the draft evidence report and draft recommendation statement, and the writing and preparation of the final recommendation statement and its submission for publication. AHRQ staff had no role in the approval of the final recommendation statement or the decision to submit for publication.

Disclaimer: Recommendations made by the USPSTF are independent of the US government. They should not be construed as an official position of AHRQ or the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Additional Contributions: We thank Howard Tracer, MD (AHRQ), who contributed to the writing of the manuscript, and Lisa Nicolella, MA (AHRQ), who assisted with coordination and editing.

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