Lack of prevention of heart failure by serial electrical cardioversion in patients with persistent atrial fibrillation

A E Tuinenburg, I C Van Gelder, M P Van Den Berg, J Brügemann, P J De Kam, H J Crijns
Heart 1999, 82 (4): 486-93

OBJECTIVE: To investigate the occurrence of heart failure complications, and to identify variables that predict heart failure in patients with (recurrent) persistent atrial fibrillation, treated aggressively with serial electrical cardioversion and antiarrhythmic drugs to maintain sinus rhythm.

DESIGN: Non-randomised controlled trial; cohort; case series; mean (SD) follow up duration 3.4 (1.6) years.

SETTING: Tertiary care centre.

SUBJECTS: Consecutive sampling of 342 patients with persistent atrial fibrillation (defined as > 24 hours duration) considered eligible for electrical cardioversion.

INTERVENTIONS: Serial electrical cardioversions and serial antiarrhythmic drug treatment, after identification and treatment of underlying cardiovascular disease.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: heart failure complications: development or progression of heart failure requiring the institution or addition of drug treatment, hospital admission, or death from heart failure.

RESULTS: Development or progression of heart failure occurred in 38 patients (11%), and 22 patients (6%) died from heart failure. These complications were related to the presence of coronary artery disease (p < 0.001, risk ratio 3.2, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.6 to 6.5), rheumatic heart disease (p < 0.001, risk ratio 5.0, 95% CI 2.4 to 10.2), cardiomyopathy (p < 0.001, risk ratio 5.0, 95% CI 2.0 to 12.4), atrial fibrillation for < 3 months (p = 0.04, risk ratio 2.0, 95% CI 1.0 to 3.7), and poor exercise tolerance (New York Heart Association class III at inclusion, p < 0.001, risk ratio 3.5, 95% CI 1.9 to 6. 7). No heart failure complications were observed in patients with lone atrial fibrillation.

CONCLUSIONS: Aggressive serial electrical cardioversion does not prevent heart failure complications in patients with persistent atrial fibrillation. These complications are predominantly observed in patients with more severe underlying cardiovascular disease. Randomised comparison with rate control treatment is needed to define the optimal treatment for persistent atrial fibrillation in relation to heart failure.

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