Atrial fibrillation and heart failure comorbidity

A Schuchert
Minerva Cardioangiologica 2005, 53 (4): 299-311
Atrial fibrillation and heart failure have in common that they mainly occur in older patients and the patients have similar underlying heart diseases. The prevalence of atrial fibrillation in heart failure patients varies from 10% to 30%. There are conflicting data whether the presence of atrial fibrillation is an independent predictor for an increased mortality in heart failure. Optimal medical heart failure therapy can improve outcome and may influence the relationship between atrial fibrillation and survival. Keystones for the management of atrial fibrillation in heart failure patients are the optimal treatment of heart failure, the use of oral anticoagulation, the case-adjusted decision of rhythm or rate control, and the primary prevention of sudden cardiac death. Heart failure patients with atrial fibrillation should receive long-term oral anticoagulation. The two options to treat atrial fibrillation are rhythm control and rate control. Given the findings of randomised trials, rhythm control of atrial fibrillation with the aim to improve survival is not justified in heart failure patients because of uncertainty about the role of atrial fibrillation as a predictor of worse outcomes and the safety of antiarrhythmic drugs. Rhythm control can be attempted, if rate control is chosen and symptoms persist. The indications for rhythm control are to control symptoms, including a deterioration of heart failure related to a loss of atrial contraction. Amiodarone seems to be the drug of choice to maintain sinus rhythm in patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation as well as in patients who returned to sinus rhythm after cardioversion. New non pharmacologic approaches for rhythm control such as catheter-based techniques seem to be highly effective. Rate control to prevent rapid atrial fibrillation is an acceptable approach in otherwise asymptomatic heart failure patients. Slowing of the ventricular rate often leads to a moderate improvement in left ventricular function in many patients. Standard therapy for rate control in heart failure patients consists of partial atrioventricular (AV) node blockade with digoxin and a beta-blocker. Amiodarone is also highly effective to reduce ventricular rate in patients with atrial fibrillation. When rate control remains refractory to medical therapy, rate control is achieved with AV node ablation and subsequent pacemaker implantation. Non pharmacological treatments for the primary prevention of sudden cardiac death are the implantation of a defibrillator.

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