Lone atrial fibrillation: what is known and what is to come

T S Potpara, G Y H Lip
International Journal of Clinical Practice 2011, 65 (4): 446-57
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most prevalent sustained cardiac arrhythmia in adults, affecting >1% of general population. Atrial fibrillation is commonly associated with structural heart disease and is a major cause of significant cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. AF sometimes develops in a subset of young patients (e.g. aged ≤60 years), with no evidence of associated cardiopulmonary or other comorbid disease (including hypertension), and has been referred to as 'lone AF'. The latter generally has a favourable prognosis; the prognostic and therapeutic implications of an accurate identification of patients with truly lone AF (that is, truly at low risk of complications), if any, would be of the utmost importance. The true prevalence of lone AF is unknown, varying between 1.6% and 30%, depending on the particular study population. Nonetheless, novel risk factors for AF, including obesity, metabolic syndrome, sleep apnea, alcohol consumption, endurance sports, anger, hostility, subclinical atherosclerosis and others, have been increasingly recognised. Also, various underlying pathophysiological mechanisms predisposing to AF, including increased atrial stretch, structural and electrophysiological alterations, autonomic imbalance, systemic inflammation, oxidative stress and genetic predisposition, have been proposed. The growing evidence of these diverse (and numerous) pathogenic mechanisms and factors related to AF inevitably raises the question of whether 'lone AF' does exist at all. In this review article, we summarise the current knowledge of the epidemiology, pathophysiology, clinical course and treatment of patients with so-called 'lone AF' and outline emerging insights into its pathogenesis and the potential therapeutic implications of a diagnosis of lone AF.

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