Pre- and post-cardioversion transesophageal echocardiography for brief anticoagulation therapy with enoxaparin in atrial fibrillation patients: a prospective study with a 1-year follow-up

Italo de Luca, Margherita Sorino, Leonardo De Luca, Paolo Colonna, Bibiana Del Salvatore, Leonardo Corlianò
International Journal of Cardiology 2005 July 20, 102 (3): 447-54

BACKGROUND: In patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) eligible for electrical cardioversion (C), the guided approach with transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) allows to avoid the 3 weeks of recommended precardioversion anticoagulation therapy. However, after sinus rhythm restoration, at least other 4 weeks of oral anticoagulation therapy are indicated, due to the postcardioversion thromboembolic risk related to left atrial (LA) and left atrial appendage (LAA) stunning. The aim of this study was to prospectively assess the effectiveness and the safety of anticoagulation therapy discontinuation 7 days after C using low-molecular-weight heparins (LMWH) in a selected group of patients who underwent a pre-C and 7 days post-C TEE evaluation.

METHODS: One hundred one patients (74 patients with nonvalvular AF and 27 patients with atrial flutter lasting >48 h and history of AF) were enrolled into the study. Two patients refused the TEE, therefore, in 99/101, we performed a first TEE and, within 24 h, a C if there were no LAA thrombi, complex aortic plaques or severe spontaneous echocontrast. After C and 7 days of home-administered enoxaparin, a second TEE was carried out. In the absence of any new thrombi, severe spontaneous echocontrast and/or low emptying velocity of LAA, the therapy with enoxaparin was stopped; otherwise, anticoagulation therapy with enoxaparin was overlapped with oral anticoagulation and continued for at least 3 weeks. All patients were clinically followed at 1, 6 and 12 months after C.

RESULTS: Sinus rhythm was restored in 68/99 patients after successful C. The second TEE was carried out in 53 patients. At 1 month follow-up, no thromboembolic events were recorded either in patients at risk who had continued the oral anticoagulant therapy for at least 3 weeks or in those who suspended LMWH after 7 days post-C TEE. Between the 2nd and 12th month, three ischemic strokes occurred, all in the group of patients who had anticoagulation therapy for at least 3 weeks and had shown LAA velocity <25 cm/s at first or second TEE. No thromboembolic events were recorded in patients with normal LAA velocity; conversely, among the patients who had shown low LAA velocity at either TEE, three suffered from ischemic stroke. In two of these three patients, low LAA velocity was detected only at post-C TEE.

CONCLUSIONS: A brief anticoagulation therapy using LMWH appears to be safe and feasible. The 7 days post-C TEE can well-define patients without LAA stunning at low thromboembolic risk, who may take advantage of an early interruption of enoxaparin as an alternative to long oral anticoagulation. The LAA stunning, even in the absence of other thromboembolic risk factors, could select a group of patients at high risk who should continue oral anticoagulation indefinitely or until signs of LAA dysfunction disappear.

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