Management of the older person with atrial fibrillation

W S Aronow
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 1999, 47 (6): 740-8

OBJECTIVE: To review the management of the older person with atrial fibrillation (AF).

DATA SOURCES: A computer-assisted search of the English language literature (MEDLINE) database followed by a manual search of the bibliographies of pertinent articles.

STUDY SELECTION: Studies on the management of persons with AF were screened for review. Studies of persons older than age 60 and recent studies were emphasized.

DATA EXTRACTION: Pertinent data were extracted from the reviewed articles. Emphasis was placed on studies involving older persons. Relevant articles were reviewed in depth.

DATA SYNTHESIS: Available data about the management of persons with paroxysmal or chronic AF were summarized

CONCLUSIONS: Management of AF includes treatment of the underlying disease and precipitating factors. Immediate direct-current cardioversion should be performed in persons with AF associated with an acute myocardial infarction, chest pain caused by myocardial ischemia, hypotension, severe heart failure, or syncope. Intravenous verapamil, diltiazem, or beta-blockers should be used to slow a very rapid ventricular rate associated with AF immediately. Oral verapamil, diltiazem, or a beta-blocker should be given if a rapid ventricular rate occurs at rest or during exercise despite digoxin. Amiodarone may be used in selected persons with symptomatic life-threatening AF refractory to other drug therapy. Nondrug therapies should be performed in persons with symptomatic AF in whom a rapid ventricular rate cannot be slowed by drug therapy. Paroxysmal AF associated with the tachycardia-bradycardia syndrome should be treated with a permanent pacemaker in combination with drugs. A permanent pacemaker should be implanted in persons with AF who develop cerebral symptoms such as dizziness or syncope associated with ventricular pauses greater than 3 seconds that are not drug-induced. Elective cardioversion of AF should not be performed in asymptomatic older persons with chronic AF. Unless transesophageal echocardiography has shown no thrombus in the left atrial appendage before cardioversion, oral warfarin should be given for 3 weeks before elective direct-current or drug cardioversion of AF and continued for at least 4 weeks after maintenance of sinus rhythm. Many cardiologists prefer the treatment strategy, especially in older persons, of ventricular rate control plus warfarin rather than maintaining sinus rhythm with antiarrhythmic drugs. Digoxin should be avoided in persons with sinus rhythm who have a history of paroxysmal AF. Older persons with chronic or paroxysmal AF who are at high risk for stroke or who have a history of hypertension and no contraindications to warfarin should receive long-term warfarin to achieve an International Normalized Ratio of 2.0 to 3.0. Older persons with AF who are at low risk for stroke or who have contraindications to warfarin should receive 325 mg of aspirin daily.

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