Transesophageal Cardioversion and Defibrillation

Transesophageal echocardiography-guided approach to cardioversion of atrial fibrillation.

Leung DY, Grimm RA, Klein AL. Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Prog Cardiovasc Dis 1996 Jul-Aug;39(1):21-32. In patients with atrial fibrillation, electrical cardioversion is often performed to relieve symptoms, to improve left ventricular function, and to decrease thromboembolic risks. However, cardioversion of atrial tachyarrhythmias is associated with an increased embolic risk, with an event rate of up to 5.6%. The American College of Chest Physicians recommend 3 weeks of systemic anticoagulation before elective cardioversion and 4 weeks of systemic anticoagulation afterwards. Expulsion of preexisting left atrial (LA) thrombi with resumption of sinus rhythm has traditionally been considered the mechanism for this increased embolic risk associated with cardioversion. The advent of transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) has allowed accurate detection of LA thrombus. Moreover, recent studies using TEE have identified a state of atrial "stunning" immediately after cardioversion, which is considered a thrombogenic milieu in which new thrombus formation and increased or de novo appearance of LA spontaneous echocardiographic contrast have been observed. Furthermore, embolic events have been reported after cardioversion despite exclusion of preexisting LA thrombus by TEE. These studies strongly suggest an alternative mechanism for embolism after cardioversion, ie, atrial stunning with worsened atrial appendage function and enhanced thrombogenesis. Recent studies have shown the safety of a TEE-guided anticoagulation approach in which exclusion of preexisting LA thrombus by TEE enables early cardioversion without the need for the standard 3 weeks of systemic anticoagulation. The importance of maintaining therapeutic anticoagulation has been further emphasized. Although preliminary observational studies of TEE-guided cardioversion are encouraging, there has been no prospective, randomized trial comparing the two strategies of anticoagulation management. The Assessement of Cardioversion Utilizing Transesophageal Echocardiography (ACUTE) pilot study randomized 126 patients from 10 sites and showed the feasibility and safety of the larger scale study. A larger multicenter, prospective randomized trial is now underway and is expected to randomize a total of 3,000 patients. The results of the ACUTE study will definitively establish the safest and the most cost-effective way to manage anticoagulation for elective cardioversion.

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