Validation of a decision rule for selective TSH screening in atrial fibrillation

Shawna D. Bellew, Rajat Moman, Christine M. Lohse, Erik P. Hess, M. Fernanda Bellolio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Introduction: Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common cardiac dysrhythmia. Current guidelines recommend obtaining thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels in all patients presenting with AF. Our aim was to investigate the utility of TSH levels for emergency department (ED) patients with a final diagnosis of AF while externally validating and potentially refining a clinical decision rule that recommends obtaining TSH levels only in patients with previous stroke, hypertension, or thyroid disease. Methods: We conducted a retrospective, cross-sectional study of consecutive patients who presented to an ED from January 2011 to March 2014 with a final ED diagnosis of AF. Charts were reviewed for historical features and TSH level. We assessed the sensitivity and specificity of the previously derived clinical decision rule. Results: Of the 1,964 patients who were eligible, 1,458 (74%) had a TSH level available for analysis. The overall prevalence of a low TSH (<0.3μIU/mL) was 2% (n=36). Elevated TSH levels (>5μIU/mL) were identified in 11% (n=159). The clinical decision rule had a sensitivity of 88.9% (95% CI [73.0-96.4]) and a specificity of 27.5% (95% CI [25.2-29.9]) for identifying a low TSH. When analyzed for its ability to identify any abnormal TSH values (high or low TSH), the sensitivity and specificity were 74.4% (95% CI [67.5-80.2]) and 27.3% (95% CI [24.9-29.9]), respectively. Conclusion: Low TSH in patients presenting to the ED with a final diagnosis of AF is rare (2%). The sensitivity of a clinical decision rule including a history of thyroid disease, hypertension, or stroke for identifying low TSH levels in patients presenting to the ED with a final diagnosis of atrial fibrillation was lower than originally reported (88.9% vs. 93%). When elevated TSH levels were included as an outcome, the sensitivity was reduced to 74.4%. We recommend that emergency medicine providers not routinely order TSH levels for all patients with a primary diagnosis of AF. Instead, these investigations can be limited to patients with new onset AF or those with a history of thyroid disease with no known TSH level within three months .

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-202
Number of pages8
JournalWestern Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2015


  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Clinical decision rule
  • Hyperthyroid
  • Hypothyroid
  • Routine testing
  • Thyroid stimulating hormone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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