Implication from randomized trials of rate and rhythm controls on management of patients with persistent atrial fibrillation

Vincent E Hagens, Dirk J Van Veldhuisen, Harry J G M Crijns, Isabelle C van Gelder
Annals of Noninvasive Electrocardiology 2006, 11 (2): 170-86
Recently, several randomized trials were published on the issue of rate or rhythm control for patients with atrial fibrillation (AF). Patients were typically minor symptomatic, relatively old, with age above 70, presenting with a recurrence of AF and suffering from only mild to moderate underlying heart disease. The main outcome of these trials is that rate control is not inferior to rhythm control for the management of patients with AF concerning morbidity and mortality. Also patients' quality of life did not differ significantly in follow-up in these trials. However, rhythm control is not redundant in the treatment of AF. Focus is now on subgroups of patients who could still have benefit being in sinus rhythm. For severely symptomatic patients, patients presenting with the first episode of AF and probably those with severe congestive heart failure, to restore and maintain sinus rhythm should still be the goal. With the failure of antiarrhythmic therapy, nonpharmacological approaches such as pulmonary vein isolation can be performed. Another finding of the randomized trials is that being in sinus rhythm does not prevent from the occurrence of thromboembolic complications. This means that for patients with AF, with risk factors for thromboembolic events, adequate anticoagulant therapy is indicated irrespective of the current heart rhythm. As with antiarrhythmic therapy, the search for new and safer anticoagulant therapy is underway. This review will focus on the key aspects we have learned from the randomized trials on rate and rhythm controls for patients with AF.

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