Cost-effectiveness of rhythm versus rate control in atrial fibrillation

Ann Intern Med. 2004 Nov 2;141(9):653-61. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-141-9-200411020-00005.


Background: Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of sustained cardiac arrhythmia, but recent trials have identified no clear advantage of rhythm control over rate control. Consequently, economic factors often play a role in guiding treatment selection.

Objective: To estimate the cost-effectiveness of rhythm-control versus rate-control strategies for atrial fibrillation in the Atrial Fibrillation Follow-up Investigation of Rhythm Management (AFFIRM).

Design: Retrospective economic evaluation. Nonparametric bootstrapping was used to estimate the distribution of incremental costs and effects on the cost-effectiveness plane.

Data sources: Data on survival and use of health care resources were obtained for all 4060 AFFIRM participants. Unit costs were estimated from various U.S. databases.

Target population: Patients with atrial fibrillation who were 65 years of age or who had other risk factors for stroke or death, similar to those enrolled in AFFIRM.

Time horizon: Mean follow-up of 3.5 years.

Perspective: Third-party payer.

Interventions: Management of patients with atrial fibrillation with antiarrhythmic drugs (rhythm control) compared with drugs that control heart rate (rate control).

Outcome measures: Mean survival, resource use, costs, and cost-effectiveness.

Results of base-case analysis: A mean survival gain of 0.08 year (P = 0.10) was observed for rate control. Patients in the rate-control group used fewer resources (hospital days, pacemaker procedures, cardioversions, and short-stay and emergency department visits). Rate control costs 5077 dollars less per person than rhythm control.

Results of sensitivity analysis: Cost savings ranged from 2189 dollars o 5481 dollars per person. Rhythm control was more costly and less effective than rate control in 95% of the bootstrap replicates over a wide range of cost assumptions.

Limitations: Resource use was limited to key items collected in AFFIRM, and the results are generalizable only to similar patient populations with atrial fibrillation.

Conclusion: Rate control is a cost-effective approach to the management of atrial fibrillation compared with maintenance of sinus rhythm in patients with atrial fibrillation similar to those enrolled in AFFIRM.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / economics
  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / therapeutic use
  • Anticoagulants / economics
  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use
  • Atrial Fibrillation / drug therapy
  • Atrial Fibrillation / mortality
  • Atrial Fibrillation / therapy*
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / economics
  • Catheter Ablation / economics
  • Computer Simulation
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Electric Countershock / economics
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / economics
  • Hospital Costs
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay / economics
  • Pacemaker, Artificial / economics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Statistics, Nonparametric


  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents
  • Anticoagulants