The 2020 European Society of Cardiology atrial fibrillation guidelines recommend opportunistic screening for atrial fibrillation by pulse taking or ECG rhythm strip in those aged over 65 years.
We aimed to compare the diagnostic accuracy of pulse palpation to ECG rhythm strip when screening for atrial fibrillation. A secondary aim was to investigate whether participants with palpitations were more likely to be diagnosed with new atrial fibrillation.
The study population were 75/76 year old individuals that participated in the STROKESTOP II study, a Swedish screening study for atrial fibrillation. Pulse palpation of the radial pulse for 30 sec was performed by healthcare professionals and recorded as regular or irregular. Thereafter a 30-sec single-lead ECG was registered. Patients were asked also if they had a history of palpitations.
Of the 6159 participants included in the study, 461 (7.5%) had irregular pulse. Twenty-two (4.8%) of those with irregular pulse were diagnosed with atrial fibrillation on single-lead ECG rhythm strip. Among those with regular pulse, 6 (0.1%) cases of new atrial fibrillation were found. The sensitivity of the pulse palpation test was 78.6% and positive predictive value 4.8%. The proportion of newly diagnosed atrial fibrillation was not different between those with and without history of palpitations.
Pulse palpation was inferior to single-lead ECG when screening for atrial fibrillation. We therefore advocate the use of single-lead ECG rather than pulse palpation when screening for atrial fibrillation. Palpitations did not predict atrial fibrillation.

© 2021 The Authors. Clinical Cardiology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.