Objectives: We sought to evaluate approaches used to control rate, the effectiveness of rate control, and switches from one drug class to another in the Atrial Fibrillation Follow-up Investigation of Rhythm Management (AFFIRM) study.
Background: The AFFIRM study showed that atrial fibrillation (AF) can be treated effectively with rate control and anticoagulation, but drug efficacy to control rate remains uncertain.
Methods: Patients (n = 2,027) randomized to rate control in the AFFIRM study were given rate-controlling drugs by their treating physicians. Standardized rate-control efficacy criteria developed a priori included resting heart rate and 6-min walk tests and/or ambulatory electrocardiographic results.
Results: Average follow-up was 3.5 +/- 1.3 years. Initial treatment included a beta-adrenergic blocker (beta-blocker) alone in 24%, a calcium channel blocker alone in 17%, digoxin alone in 16%, a beta-blocker and digoxin in 14%, or a calcium channel blocker and digoxin in 14% of patients. Overall rate control was achieved in 70% of patients given beta-blockers as the first drug (with or without digoxin), 54% with calcium channel blockers (with or without digoxin), and 58% with digoxin alone. Adequate overall rate control was achieved in 58% of patients with the first drug or combination. Multivariate analysis revealed an association between first drug class and several clinical variables. There were more changes to beta-blockers than to the other two-drug classes (p < 0.0001).
Conclusions: Rate control in AF is possible in the majority of patients with AF. Beta-blockers were the most effective drugs. To achieve the goal of adequate rate control in all patients, frequent medication changes and drug combinations were needed.