Prognostic significance of atrial fibrillation in advanced heart failure. A study of 390 patients

H R Middlekauff, W G Stevenson, L W Stevenson
Circulation 1991, 84 (1): 40-8

BACKGROUND: Atrial fibrillation is common in advanced heart failure, but its prognostic significance is controversial.

METHODS AND RESULTS: We evaluated the relation of atrial rhythm to overall survival and sudden death in 390 consecutive advanced heart failure patients. Etiology of heart failure was coronary artery disease in 177 patients (45%) and nonischemic cardiomyopathy or valvular heart disease in 213 patients (55%). Mean left ventricular ejection fraction was 0.19 +/- 0.07. Seventy-five patients (19%) had paroxysmal (26 patients) or chronic (49 patients) atrial fibrillation. Compared with patients with sinus rhythm, patients with atrial fibrillation did not differ in etiology of heart failure, mean pulmonary capillary wedge pressure on therapy, or embolic events but were more likely to be receiving warfarin and antiarrhythmic drugs and had a slightly higher left ventricular ejection fraction. After a mean follow-up of 236 +/- 303 days, 98 patients died: 56 (57%) died suddenly, and 36 (37%) died of progressive heart failure. Actuarial 1-year overall survival was 68%, and sudden death-free survival was 79%. Actuarial survival was significantly worse for atrial fibrillation than for sinus rhythm patients (52% versus 71%, p = 0.0013). Similarly, sudden death-free survival was significantly worse for atrial fibrillation than for sinus rhythm patients (69% versus 82%, p = 0.0013). By Cox proportional hazards model, pulmonary capillary wedge pressure on therapy, left ventricular ejection fraction, coronary artery disease, and atrial fibrillation were independent risk factors for total mortality and sudden death. For patients who had pulmonary capillary wedge pressure of less than 16 mm Hg on therapy, atrial fibrillation was associated with poorer 1-year survival (44% versus 83%, p = 0.00001); however, in the high pulmonary capillary wedge pressure group, atrial fibrillation did not confer an increased risk (58% versus 57%).

CONCLUSIONS: Atrial fibrillation is a marker for increased risk of death, especially in heart failure patients who have lower filling pressures on vasodilator and diuretic therapy. Whether aggressive attempts to maintain sinus rhythm will reduce this risk is unknown.

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