Vol 15, No 5 (2008)
Review Article
Published online: 2008-08-12

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Atrial conduction and atrial fibrillation: What can we learn from surface ECG?

Pyotr G. Platonov
Cardiol J 2008;15(5):402-407.


Despite the advancements in pharmacological and non-pharmacological management of atrial fibrillation (AF) observed during last decades, available treatment modalities and predictors of their success are still far from optimal. Understanding of pathophysiological mechanisms underlying AF and assessment of atrial electrophysiological properties using easily available non-invasive diagnostic tools such as surface ECG are essential for further improvement of patient-tailored treatment strategies. P-wave duration is generally accepted as the most reliable non-invasive marker of atrial conduction and its prolongation has been associated with history of AF. However, patients with paroxysmal AF without structural heart disease may not have any impressive P-wave prolongation thus suggesting that the global conduction slowing is not an obligatory requirement for development of AF. In these settings, the morphology of P-wave becomes an important source of information concerning propagation of atrial activation. One of the most common morphologies, i.e. biphasic configuration of P-waves in right precordial leads has been considered a marker of left atrial enlargement but, seen in patients with structurally normal hearts, appears to be linked to an interatrial conduction defect. Recent advances in endocardial mapping technologies have linked certain P-wave morphologies with interatrial conduction patterns that may have clinical implications for invasive treatment of AF patients. The value of P-wave morphology extends beyond cardiac arrhythmias associated with atrial conduction delay and can be used for prediction of clinical outcome of wide range of cardiovascular disorders such as survival after myocardial infarction or the risk of stroke.

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