Pharmacological rate control of atrial fibrillation

Cardiol Clin. 2004 Feb;22(1):35-45. doi: 10.1016/s0733-8651(03)00111-5.


To control ventricular rate in patients with AF, physicians should seek to control heart rate at rest and with exertion. The goal has to be achieved while minimizing costs and adverse effects. For emergency use, i.v. diltiazem or esmolol are drugs useful because of their rapid onset of action. They have to be used with caution in patients with concomitant left ventricular failure symptoms, however. For most patients with AF, chronic control of the ventricular rate can be achieved with one drug. For the chronic control of ventricular rate in patients with AF and normal ventricular function, diltiazem, atenolol, are metoprolol are probably the drugs of choice. For patients with AF and structurally abnormal hearts, atenolol, metoprolol, or carvedilol are appropriate choices. Adequate ventricular rate control by pharmacological agents should be evaluated by either 24-hour Holter monitoring or a submaximal stress test to determine the resting and exercise ventricular rate. If the mean ventricular rate is not close to 80 beats per minute, or the heart rate on moderate exertion is not between 90 to 115 beats per minute, a second agent to control the rate should be added. Excessive reductions in ventricular rates that could limit exercise tolerance should be avoided.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amiodarone / pharmacology
  • Amiodarone / therapeutic use
  • Atenolol / pharmacology
  • Atenolol / therapeutic use
  • Atrial Fibrillation / drug therapy*
  • Cardiotonic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cardiotonic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Digoxin / pharmacology
  • Digoxin / therapeutic use
  • Diltiazem / pharmacology
  • Diltiazem / therapeutic use
  • Heart Rate / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Metoprolol / pharmacology
  • Metoprolol / therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Verapamil / pharmacology
  • Verapamil / therapeutic use


  • Cardiotonic Agents
  • Atenolol
  • Digoxin
  • Verapamil
  • Diltiazem
  • Metoprolol
  • Amiodarone