Heart Flicker Warning Sign of Atrial Fibrillation

May 26, 2020

Episodes of atrial fibrillation can prove difficult to predict.  However new research shows a flicker in the heart's rhythm can act as a warning sign for this common electrical disorder of the heart.

Episodes of atrial fibrillation can prove difficult to predict.  However new research shows a flicker in the heart's rhythm can act as a warning sign for this common electrical disorder of the heart.

An international team of researchers studied the dynamics of the state before the cardiac rhythm changes from normal sinus to AF rhythm and vice versa. Using critical transition theory, they hope to provide an early warning signal for those with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation.  Researchers believe this may lead to more successful interventions when an atrial fibrillation episode has started and could aid future wearable devices.

The paper appeared in the journal Chaos.

"The flickering of the cardiac state could provide an early warning for the onset of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation for patients who are wearing a device that can measure the heartbeats accurately to monitor their cardiac state," said Boon Leong Lan, one of the paper’s authors. "This early warning would be useful if there is a medicine that the patient could take to prevent the onset."

Lan said that their definition of the cardiac state, which is based on the changes between successive beat-to-beat intervals, was inspired by his previous work. He and his collaborator previously discovered that the distribution of the beat-interval changes can discriminate subjects with sustained atrial fibrillation from healthy ones very well.

Their new approach shows the cardiac state flickers back and forth between near normal and near atrial fibrillation states, resulting in a bimodal distribution of states before atrial fibrillation starts or terminates.

The researchers are optimistic their method of defining the state of a complex system can be adapted to study critical transition in other chronic episodic diseases, such as epileptic seizure, asthma and ulcers.

He and his group are currently studying the changes in the brain state before epileptic seizures using their approach.

The article, "Flickering of cardiac state before the onset and termination of atrial fibrillation," is authored by Boon Leong Lan, Yew Wai Liew, Mikito Toda and Suraya Hani Kamsani.  Chaos. May 26, 2020