People with atrial fibrillation (AF) often undergo cardiac surgery for other underlying reasons and are frequently offered concomitant AF surgery to reduce the frequency of short- and long-term AF and improve short- and long-term outcomes.
To assess the effects of concomitant AF surgery among people with AF who are undergoing cardiac surgery on short-term and long-term (12 months or greater) health-related outcomes, health-related quality of life, and costs.
Starting from the year when the first "maze" AF surgery was reported (1987), we searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) in the Cochrane Library (March 2016), MEDLINE Ovid (March 2016), Embase Ovid (March 2016), Web of Science (March 2016), the Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE, April 2015), and Health Technology Assessment Database (HTA, March 2016). We searched trial registers in April 2016. We used no language restrictions.
We included randomised controlled trials evaluating the effect of any concomitant AF surgery compared with no AF surgery among adults with preoperative AF, regardless of symptoms, who were undergoing cardiac surgery for another indication.
Two review authors independently selected studies and extracted data. We evaluated the risk of bias using the Cochrane 'Risk of bias' tool. We included outcome data on all-cause and cardiovascular-specific mortality, freedom from atrial fibrillation, flutter, or tachycardia off antiarrhythmic medications, as measured by patient electrocardiographic monitoring greater than three months after the procedure, procedural safety, 30-day rehospitalisation, need for post-discharge direct current cardioversion, health-related quality of life, and direct costs. We calculated risk ratios (RR) for dichotomous data with 95% confidence intervals (CI) using a fixed-effect model when heterogeneity was low (I² ≤ 50%) and random-effects model when heterogeneity was high (I² > 50%). We evaluated the quality of evidence using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) framework to create a 'Summary of findings' table.
We found 34 reports of 22 trials (1899 participants) with five additional ongoing studies and three studies awaiting classification. All included studies were assessed as having high risk of bias across at least one domain. The effect of concomitant AF surgery on all-cause mortality was uncertain when compared with no concomitant AF surgery (7.0% versus 6.6%, RR 1.14, 95% CI 0.81 to 1.59, I² = 0%, 20 trials, 1829 participants, low-quality evidence), but the intervention increased freedom from atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, or atrial tachycardia off antiarrhythmic medications > three months (51.0% versus 24.1%, RR 2.04, 95% CI 1.63 to 2.55, I² = 0%, eight trials, 649 participants, moderate-quality evidence). The effect of concomitant AF surgery on 30-day mortality was uncertain (2.3% versus 3.1%, RR 1.25 95% CI 0.71 to 2.20, I² = 0%, 18 trials, 1566 participants, low-quality evidence), but the intervention increased the risk of permanent pacemaker implantation (6.0% versus 4.1%, RR 1.69, 95% CI 1.12 to 2.54, I² = 0%, 18 trials, 1726 participants, moderate-quality evidence). Investigator-defined adverse events, including but limited to, need for surgical re-exploration or mediastinitis, were not routinely reported but were not different between the two groups (other adverse events: 24.8% versus 23.6%, RR 1.07, 95% CI 0.85 to 1.34, I² = 45%, nine trials, 858 participants), but the quality of this evidence was very low.
For patients with AF undergoing cardiac surgery, there is moderate-quality evidence that concomitant AF surgery approximately doubles the risk of freedom from atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, or atrial tachycardia off anti-arrhythmic drugs while increasing the risk of permanent pacemaker implantation. The effects on mortality are uncertain. Future, high-quality and adequately powered trials will likely affect the confidence on the effect estimates of AF surgery on clinical outcomes.