Conference Coverage

New ESC/EACTS guideline on atrial fibrillation


New atrial fibrillation (AFib) management guidelines from the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) call for diagnostic confirmation and structured characterization of AFib and the need to streamline integrated care with the Atrial fibrillation Better Care (ABC) pathway.

“It’s as simple as CC to ABC,” quipped one task force member during the virtual unveiling of the guidelines at the ESC Congress 2020.

The guidelines were developed in collaboration with the European Association of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery (EACTS) and published simultaneously August 29 in the European Heart Journal.

Acknowledging the slew of novel screening tools now available and their reported sensitivity and specificity rates, the document supports opportunistic screening for AFib by pulse taking or electrocardiogram (ECG) rhythm strip in patients at least 65 years of age, with a class 1 recommendation, evidence level B.

task force member Giuseppe Boriani, MD, PhD, University of Modena, Italy

Dr. Giuseppe Boriani

Systematic ECG screening should also be considered to detect AFib in individuals at least 75 years of age or in those at high risk for stroke (class IIa, level B).

Other new class I screening recommendations are to inform individuals undergoing screening about the significance and treatment implications of detecting AFib and to have a structured referral platform in place for further physician-led evaluation.

A definite diagnosis of clinical AFib is established only after confirmation by a conventional 12-lead ECG or single-lead ECG strip with at least 30 seconds of AFib.

In line with ESC’s 2016 AFib guidelines, the new iteration classifies AFib as first diagnosed, paroxysmal, persistent, long-standing persistent, and permanent. But it’s also important to classify the clinical profile of AFib, task force member Giuseppe Boriani, MD, PhD, University of Modena, Italy, said in the first of five presentations.

“So the novelty of the 2020 guidelines is related to the proposal of the 4S-AF scheme for a structured characterization of atrial fibrillation that takes into account Stroke risk, severity of Symptoms, Severity of atrial fibrillation burden, and Substrate severity,” he said.

Tatjana Potpara, MD, PhD, guideline co-chair and head of the Department for Intensive Arrhythmia Care, Clinical Centre of Serbia, Belgrade

Dr. Tatjana Potpara

This represents a paradigm shift from a single-domain conventional classification of AFib toward a structured characterization that streamlines assessment, informs treatment decision-making, and facilitates communication among physicians of various specialties, said Tatjana Potpara, MD, PhD, guideline co-chair and head of the Department for Intensive Arrhythmia Care, Clinical Centre of Serbia, Belgrade.

“The beauty of this approach is that, at present, the assessment of the ‘S’ components are performed using available tools, but in the future, the 4S-AF has a great potential to incorporate whatever becomes available for a more precision assessment of substrate or symptoms or arrhythmia burden and so forth,” she said.

ABC pathway

The guidelines advocate the previously described ABC pathway for integrated care management, which includes ‘A’ for Anticoagulation/Avoid stroke, ‘B’ for Better symptom control, and ‘C’ for Comorbidity/Cardiovascular risk factor optimization.

The document strengthens support for formal risk score–based assessment of bleeding risk in all patients, including use of the HAS-BLED score to help address modifiable bleeding risk factors and to identify patients at high bleeding risk (HAS-BLED score ≥3) for early and more frequent follow-up.

These assessments should be done regularly, given that both stroke and bleeding risk are dynamic and change over time with aging and comorbidities, Dr. Potpara stressed. In patients with AFib initially at low risk for stroke, the next assessment should be optimally performed at 4-6 months.

The guideline also targets weight loss in patients who are obese and have AFib, particularly those being evaluated for ablation, and good blood pressure control in patients with AFib and hypertension to reduce AFib recurrences and risk for stroke and bleeding (both class I, up from IIa).

Gerhard Hindricks, MD, PhD, guideline co-chair and medical director of the Rhythmology Department, Heart Centre Leipzig, Germany

Dr. Gerhard Hindricks

It’s particularly important that these risk factors are addressed, and that modifiable risk factors that go along with increased AFib occurrence and persistence are addressed and communicated to patients, said Gerhard Hindricks, MD, PhD, guideline cochair and medical director of the Rhythmology Department, Heart Centre Leipzig (Germany).

“I have to confess, as an interventional electrophysiologist, there has been a time where I have not appreciated these risk factors intensely enough,” he said. “But we have learned, also in the field of catheter ablation, that weight loss is an essential basis for a good procedure. If we can motivate patients to lose weight and then come to the intervention with better outcome, it’s a true benefit for the patient and addresses patient values. So I’m particularly happy we have introduced that with such intensity in the guidelines.”


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