Detection of Atrial Fibrillation by Permanent Pacemakers: Observations from the STOP AF Trial
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Pacemaker telemetry is increasingly being used to infer the presence or absence of arrhythmias in clinical practice. To evaluate the reliability of these data in patients with sick-sinus syndrome, a sub-study of eighteen consecutive patients in the Systematic Trial of Pacing to prevent Atrial Fibrillation (STOP AF) implanted with dual-chamber pacemakers had simultaneous 24-hour Holter recordings and pacemaker telemetry down-loaded. Whilst heart rate data were very similar, telemetry data achieved only 57% sensitivity with 64% specificity for the presence of atrial fibrillation on Holter recording over 24 hours. False-positive results were due to far-field sensing while false-negatives were seen with very short episodes of atrial fibrillation. The pacemaker's anti-tachycardia responses were not specific for the detection of atrial fibrillation.
There are very few published reports correlating pacemaker diagnostic data and stored electrograms with external Holter monitoring. We believe that more validation studies of are needed before pacemaker diagnostic data can be used with confidence in clinical practice. It is unlikely that current devices with sophisticated detection algorithms will fail to detect prolonged episodes of arrhythmia and their capacity to confirm events with stored electrograms, intervals and markers reduces the possibility of false-positives, but care must be taken in the interpretation of stored data from devices without these capabilities. Equally, it cannot be assumed that if intracardiac electrograms from one episode confirm the presence of an arrhythmia, that all recorded events have been similarly correctly interpreted.
We have shown in a sub-study of STOP-AF that simple mathematical models using heart rate bin analysis are not reliable for detection of arrhythmias with short durations. Despite these limitations, the potential of implanted pacemakers to record cardiac rhythm and trends, such as heart-rate variability, over time remains an exciting prospect, particularly in guiding individual patient therapy.
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