Efficacy of agents for pharmacologic conversion of atrial fibrillation and subsequent maintenance of sinus rhythm: a meta-analysis of clinical trials

J Fam Pract. 2000 Nov;49(11):1033-46.


Context: Physicians have little evidentiary guidance for pharmacologic agent selection for atrial fibrillation (AF).

Objective: To assess antiarrhythmic agent efficacy for AF conversion and subsequent maintenance of sinus rhythm (MSR).

Data source: We searched the clinical trial database of the Cochrane Collaboration and MEDLINE encompassing literature from 1948 to May 1998.

Study selection: We selected 36 (28%) articles eligible as randomized trials of nonpostoperative AF conversion or MSR in adults.

Data extraction: Study quality; rates of conversion, MSR, and adverse events were extracted.

Data synthesis: Compared with control treatment (placebo, verapamil, diltiazem, or digoxin), the odds ratio (OR) for conversion was greatest for ibutilide/dofetilide (OR=29.1; 95% confidence interval [CI], 9.8-86.1) and flecainide (OR=24.7; 95% CI, 9.0-68.3). Less strong but conclusive evidence existed for propafenone (OR=4.6; 95% CI, 2.6-8.2). Quinidine (OR=2.9; 95% CI, 1.2-7.0) had moderate evidence of efficacy for conversion. Disopyramide (OR=7.0; 95% CI, 0.3-153.0) and amiodarone (OR=5.7; 95% CI, 1.0-33.4) had suggestive evidence of efficacy. Sotalol (OR=0.4; 95% CI, 0.0-3.0) had suggestive evidence of negative efficacy. For MSR, strong evidence of efficacy existed for quinidine (OR=4.1; 95% CI, 2.5-6.7), disopyramide (OR=3.4; CI, 1.6-7.1), flecainide (OR=3.1; 95% CI, 1.5-6.2), propafenone (OR=3.7; 95% CI, 2.4-5.7), and sotalol (OR=7.1; 95% CI, 3.8-13.4). The only amiodarone data, from comparison with disopyramide, provided moderate evidence of efficacy for MSR. No trial evaluated procainamide. Direct agent comparisons and adverse event data were limited.

Conclusions: Although multiple antiarrhythmic agents had strong evidence of efficacy compared with control treatment for MSR, ibutilide/dofetilide and flecainide had particularly strong evidence of efficacy compared with control treatment for AF conversion. There is sparse and inconclusive evidence on direct agent comparisons and adverse event rates. Obtaining information regarding these relative efficacies should be a research priority.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / drug therapy*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents