The use of diltiazem for treating rapid atrial fibrillation in the out-of-hospital setting

Ann Emerg Med. 2001 Jan;37(1):38-45. doi: 10.1067/mem.2001.111518.


Study objective: We sought to evaluate the use of intravenous diltiazem for treatment of rapid atrial fibrillation or flutter (RAF) in the out-of-hospital setting.

Methods: This study is a retrospective review of data with historical control subjects. Data were drawn from out-of-hospital patients reported to a statewide paramedic system who presented with atrial fibrillation or flutter and a ventricular response rate (VRR) of 150 beats/min or greater. The intervention (diltiazem) group included patients who received diltiazem during a 9-month period in 1999. The control group included patients from 1998 who did not receive diltiazem. Patients who were intubated or underwent cardioversion were omitted. Therapeutic response was defined as the occurrence of change to sinus rhythm, reduction of VRR to 100 beats/min or less, or reduction of baseline VRR by 20% or greater. Data were analyzed by using the chi(2) test, the Student's t test, and odds ratios (ORs). A Bonferroni adjusted P value of.005 was used to define statistical significance.

Results: Forty-three patients receiving diltiazem and 27 control subjects were included in the study. The mean total diltiazem dose was 19.8 mg (95% confidence interval 17.8 to 21.8). The diltiazem and control groups did not significantly differ with respect to age; sex; history of atrial fibrillation; prior use of digitalis, beta-blockers, or calcium channel blockers; concurrent out-of-hospital therapies; or baseline VRR or systolic blood pressure (P =.09 to 1.00). The difference in VRR reduction between the diltiazem and control groups was 38 beats/min (95% confidence interval 24 to 52); this difference was statistically significant (P <.001). The mean percentage reduction of VRR in the diltiazem group was -33.1%. The difference in systolic blood pressure change between the diltiazem and control groups was not statistically significant (P =.17). The diltiazem group had a higher prevalence of achieving VRR reduction to 100 beats/min or less than did the control group (OR 22.6; P <.001), of achieving a VRR reduction of 20% or greater (OR 19.3; P <.001), and of achieving overall therapeutic response (OR 19.3; P <.001). Few changed to sinus rhythm in either group (estimated OR 6.3; P =.15). No patients in the diltiazem group required treatment for hypotension, endotracheal intubation, resuscitation from cardiac arrest, or emergency treatment of unstable dysrhythmias.

Conclusion: The effects of diltiazem on RAF can be appreciated within the constraints of the out-of-hospital environment. Diltiazem should be considered as a viable field therapy for rate control of RAF.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Atrial Fibrillation / drug therapy*
  • Calcium Channel Blockers / therapeutic use*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Diltiazem / therapeutic use*
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Calcium Channel Blockers
  • Diltiazem