Rhythm control versus rate control in atrial fibrillation
- Kapil Kumar, MD
Kapil Kumar, MD
- Clinical Instructor in Medicine
- Harvard Medical School
- Warren J Manning, MD
Warren J Manning, MD
- Section Editor — Noninvasive Cardiac Imaging and Stress Testing
- Professor of Medicine and Radiology
- Harvard Medical School
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common sustained arrhythmia. It may cause significant symptoms and impair both functional status and quality of life. Without therapeutic intervention, affected patients are at increased risk for mortality (1.5- to 1.9-fold in the Framingham Heart Study) and morbidity (thromboembolic events and limiting symptoms).
In AF, the loss of the regular and organized contraction of the left atrium as well as the subsequent increase in ventricular rate, lead to both immediate and long-term adverse consequences: deterioration in hemodynamics secondary to increased heart rate and loss of atrioventricular (AV) synchrony, an increased risk for stroke and other embolic events from left atrial thrombi, and progressive dysfunction of the left atrium and left ventricle [1,2]. (See "Hemodynamic consequences of atrial fibrillation and cardioversion to sinus rhythm" and "Tachycardia-mediated cardiomyopathy".)
For each patient with AF, the two principal goals of therapy are symptom control and the prevention of thromboembolism. (See "Atrial fibrillation: Anticoagulant therapy to prevent embolization" and "Hemodynamic consequences of atrial fibrillation and cardioversion to sinus rhythm", section on 'Adverse hemodynamics in AF'.)
Rate- and rhythm-control strategies improve symptoms, but neither has been conclusively shown to improve survival compared to the other. (See 'Definitions' below.)
For each patient with AF, a decision should be made as to which approach will be used for long-term management. The following points should be kept in mind irrespective of strategy:
- Benjamin EJ, Wolf PA, D'Agostino RB, et al. Impact of atrial fibrillation on the risk of death: the Framingham Heart Study. Circulation 1998; 98:946.
- Chugh SS, Blackshear JL, Shen WK, et al. Epidemiology and natural history of atrial fibrillation: clinical implications. J Am Coll Cardiol 2001; 37:371.
- Wyse DG, Waldo AL, DiMarco JP, et al. A comparison of rate control and rhythm control in patients with atrial fibrillation. N Engl J Med 2002; 347:1825.
- Van Gelder IC, Hagens VE, Bosker HA, et al. A comparison of rate control and rhythm control in patients with recurrent persistent atrial fibrillation. N Engl J Med 2002; 347:1834.
- Zarembski DG, Nolan PE Jr, Slack MK, Caruso AC. Treatment of resistant atrial fibrillation. A meta-analysis comparing amiodarone and flecainide. Arch Intern Med 1995; 155:1885.
- Antonielli E, Pizzuti A, Pálinkás A, et al. Clinical value of left atrial appendage flow for prediction of long-term sinus rhythm maintenance in patients with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation. J Am Coll Cardiol 2002; 39:1443.
- Israel CW, Grönefeld G, Ehrlich JR, et al. Long-term risk of recurrent atrial fibrillation as documented by an implantable monitoring device: implications for optimal patient care. J Am Coll Cardiol 2004; 43:47.
- Page RL, Wilkinson WE, Clair WK, et al. Asymptomatic arrhythmias in patients with symptomatic paroxysmal atrial fibrillation and paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia. Circulation 1994; 89:224.
- Botto GL, Padeletti L, Santini M, et al. Presence and duration of atrial fibrillation detected by continuous monitoring: crucial implications for the risk of thromboembolic events. J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol 2009; 20:241.
- Seto TB, Buchholz WA, Douglas PS, Manning WJ. When the body and appendage of the left atrium disagree: "Focal" atrial fibrillation-implications for atrial thrombus formation and risk of thromboembolism. J Am Soc Echocardiogr 1999; 12:1097.
- Hohnloser SH, Kuck KH, Lilienthal J. Rhythm or rate control in atrial fibrillation--Pharmacological Intervention in Atrial Fibrillation (PIAF): a randomised trial. Lancet 2000; 356:1789.
- Carlsson J, Miketic S, Windeler J, et al. Randomized trial of rate-control versus rhythm-control in persistent atrial fibrillation: the Strategies of Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation (STAF) study. J Am Coll Cardiol 2003; 41:1690.
- Opolski G, Torbicki A, Kosior DA, et al. Rate control vs rhythm control in patients with nonvalvular persistent atrial fibrillation: the results of the Polish How to Treat Chronic Atrial Fibrillation (HOT CAFE) Study. Chest 2004; 126:476.
- Ogawa S, Yamashita T, Yamazaki T, et al. Optimal treatment strategy for patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation: J-RHYTHM Study. Circ J 2009; 73:242.
- Ionescu-Ittu R, Abrahamowicz M, Jackevicius CA, et al. Comparative effectiveness of rhythm control vs rate control drug treatment effect on mortality in patients with atrial fibrillation. Arch Intern Med 2012; 172:997.
- Steinberg JS, Sadaniantz A, Kron J, et al. Analysis of cause-specific mortality in the Atrial Fibrillation Follow-up Investigation of Rhythm Management (AFFIRM) study. Circulation 2004; 109:1973.
- Curtis AB, Gersh BJ, Corley SD, et al. Clinical factors that influence response to treatment strategies in atrial fibrillation: the Atrial Fibrillation Follow-up Investigation of Rhythm Management (AFFIRM) study. Am Heart J 2005; 149:645.
- Corley SD, Epstein AE, DiMarco JP, et al. Relationships between sinus rhythm, treatment, and survival in the Atrial Fibrillation Follow-Up Investigation of Rhythm Management (AFFIRM) Study. Circulation 2004; 109:1509.
- Bahnson TD, Grant AO. To be or not to be in normal sinus rhythm: what do we really know? Ann Intern Med 2004; 141:727.
- Hagens VE, Ranchor AV, Van Sonderen E, et al. Effect of rate or rhythm control on quality of life in persistent atrial fibrillation. Results from the Rate Control Versus Electrical Cardioversion (RACE) Study. J Am Coll Cardiol 2004; 43:241.
- Snow V, Weiss KB, LeFevre M, et al. Management of newly detected atrial fibrillation: a clinical practice guideline from the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med 2003; 139:1009.
- Zimetbaum P, Josephson ME. Is there a role for maintaining sinus rhythm in patients with atrial fibrillation? Ann Intern Med 2004; 141:720.
- AFFIRM Investigators. Atrial Fibrillation Follow-up Investigation of Rhythm Management. Baseline characteristics of patients with atrial fibrillation: the AFFIRM Study. Am Heart J 2002; 143:991.
- Pedersen OD, Bagger H, Keller N, et al. Efficacy of dofetilide in the treatment of atrial fibrillation-flutter in patients with reduced left ventricular function: a Danish investigations of arrhythmia and mortality on dofetilide (diamond) substudy. Circulation 2001; 104:292.
- Waldo AL. A perspective on antiarrhythmic drug therapy to treat atrial fibrillation: there remains an unmet need. Am Heart J 2006; 151:771.
- Dewland TA, Marcus GM. Rate vs rhythm control in atrial fibrillation: can observational data trump randomized trial results? Arch Intern Med 2012; 172:983.
- McNamara RL, Tamariz LJ, Segal JB, Bass EB. Management of atrial fibrillation: review of the evidence for the role of pharmacologic therapy, electrical cardioversion, and echocardiography. Ann Intern Med 2003; 139:1018.
- de Denus S, Sanoski CA, Carlsson J, et al. Rate vs rhythm control in patients with atrial fibrillation: a meta-analysis. Arch Intern Med 2005; 165:258.
- Fuster V, Ryden LE, Cannom DS, et al. ACC/AHA/ESC 2006 Guidelines for the Management of Patients With Atrial Fibrillation A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and the European Society of Cardiology Committee for Practice Guidelines (Writing Committee to Revise the 2001 Guidelines for the Management of Patients With Atrial Fibrillation). J Am Coll Cardiol. 2006; 48:e149.
- Coplen SE, Antman EM, Berlin JA, et al. Efficacy and safety of quinidine therapy for maintenance of sinus rhythm after cardioversion. A meta-analysis of randomized control trials. Circulation 1990; 82:1106.
- Flaker GC, Blackshear JL, McBride R, et al. Antiarrhythmic drug therapy and cardiac mortality in atrial fibrillation. The Stroke Prevention in Atrial Fibrillation Investigators. J Am Coll Cardiol 1992; 20:527.
- Roy D, Talajic M, Dorian P, et al. Amiodarone to prevent recurrence of atrial fibrillation. Canadian Trial of Atrial Fibrillation Investigators. N Engl J Med 2000; 342:913.
- Dittrich HC, Erickson JS, Schneiderman T, et al. Echocardiographic and clinical predictors for outcome of elective cardioversion of atrial fibrillation. Am J Cardiol 1989; 63:193.
- Go AS, Hylek EM, Phillips KA, et al. Prevalence of diagnosed atrial fibrillation in adults: national implications for rhythm management and stroke prevention: the AnTicoagulation and Risk Factors in Atrial Fibrillation (ATRIA) Study. JAMA 2001; 285:2370.
- European Heart Rhythm Association, European Association for Cardio-Thoracic Surgery, Camm AJ, et al. Guidelines for the management of atrial fibrillation: the Task Force for the Management of Atrial Fibrillation of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). Eur Heart J 2010; 31:2369.
- Chung MK, Shemanski L, Sherman DG, et al. Functional status in rate- versus rhythm-control strategies for atrial fibrillation: results of the Atrial Fibrillation Follow-Up Investigation of Rhythm Management (AFFIRM) Functional Status Substudy. J Am Coll Cardiol 2005; 46:1891.
- Singh SN, Tang XC, Singh BN, et al. Quality of life and exercise performance in patients in sinus rhythm versus persistent atrial fibrillation: a Veterans Affairs Cooperative Studies Program Substudy. J Am Coll Cardiol 2006; 48:721.
- Cosio FG, Aliot E, Botto GL, et al. Delayed rhythm control of atrial fibrillation may be a cause of failure to prevent recurrences: reasons for change to active antiarrhythmic treatment at the time of the first detected episode. Europace 2008; 10:21.
- January CT, Wann LS, Alpert JS, et al. 2014 AHA/ACC/HRS guideline for the management of patients with atrial fibrillation: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on practice guidelines and the Heart Rhythm Society. Circulation 2014; 130:e199.
- January CT, Wann LS, Alpert JS, et al. 2014 AHA/ACC/HRS guideline for the management of patients with atrial fibrillation: executive summary: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on practice guidelines and the Heart Rhythm Society. Circulation 2014; 130:2071.
- Patients with recent onset
- THROMBOEMBOLIC RISK
- COMPARATIVE STUDIES
- AFFIRM trial
- RACE trial
- Limitations of trial data
- Canadian health care database study
- CHOICE OF THERAPY
- Preference for rate control
- - Newly detected AF
- - Very elderly
- Preference for rhythm control
- - Failure of rate control
- - Younger patients
- - Patients early in their natural history
- Recommendations of others
- INFORMATION FOR PATIENTS
- SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS