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Anticoagulation post-cardioversion of acute atrial fibrillation in the emergency department
  1. Katherine Potier, Specialist Registrar, Emergency Medicine,
  2. Richard Parris, Locum ED Consultant


    A short cut review was carried out to establish whether anticoagulation is indicated after emergency department cardioversion of a patient with acute onset atrial fibrillation. 243 papers were found using the reported search, of which none presented any evidence to answer the clinical question. It is concluded that there is no evidence available to answer this question. Further research is needed.

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    Report by Katherine Potier, Specialist Registrar, Emergency MedicineChecked by Richard Parris, Locum ED Consultant

    Clinical scenario

    A 45 year old man who presented to your emergency department with new onset AF has been successfully chemically cardioverted. You wonder whether he needs anti-coagulating on discharge to prevent any longer term thromboembolic complications.

    Three part question

    In a [patient with acute atrial fibrillation who has cardioverted to sinus rhythm] does [anticoagulation post-cardioversion] [reduce the incidence of thromboembolic complications]?

    Search strategy

    Medline 1966-12/04 using the OVID interface and The Cochrane Library, Issue 4, 2004. Medline: [exp Atrial fibrillation OR OR atrial] AND [exp electric countershock OR OR exp anti arrhythmia agents OR chemical] AND [exp heparin OR OR exp heparin, low molecular weight OR low molecular weight OR fractionated OR OR OR OR OR OR OR OR OR exp warfarin or OR exp coumarins OR OR exp aspirin OR] LIMIT to human AND English language.

    Cochrane: (atrial fibrillation) AND (anticoagulation) AND (cardioversion)

    Search outcome

    A total of 243 papers were found, none of which answered the three part question.

    Relevant paper(s)

    No relevant papers given.


    It has been recommended that patients with AF lasting more than 2 days should be anticoagulated for at least 1 month post cardioversion. This is because of the formation of intratrial thrombus and the potential for embolic events with atrial stunning. However, there is no evidence to support this approach in AF of shorter duration as the likelihood of cardioversion related thromboembolism is thought to be very low.


    There is no evidence to support the anticoagulation of patients with new onset AF on discharge, who have been successfully cardioverted in the emergency department (whether this be chemically, electrically, or spontaneously).