Radiofrequency ablation vs antiarrhythmic drugs as first-line treatment of symptomatic atrial fibrillation: a randomized trial

JAMA. 2005 Jun 1;293(21):2634-40. doi: 10.1001/jama.293.21.2634.


Context: Treatment with antiarrhythmic drugs and anticoagulation is considered first-line therapy in patients with symptomatic atrial fibrillation (AF). Pulmonary vein isolation (PVI) with radiofrequency ablation may cure AF, obviating the need for antiarrhythmic drugs and anticoagulation.

Objective: To determine whether PVI is feasible as first-line therapy for treating patients with symptomatic AF.

Design, setting, and participants: A multicenter prospective randomized study conducted from December 31, 2001, to July 1, 2002, of 70 patients aged 18 to 75 years who experienced monthly symptomatic AF episodes for at least 3 months and had not been treated with antiarrhythmic drugs.

Intervention: Patients were randomized to receive either PVI using radiofrequency ablation (n=33) or antiarrhythmic drug treatment (n=37), with a 1-year follow-up.

Main outcome measures: Recurrence of AF, hospitalization, and quality of life assessment.

Results: Two patients in the antiarrhythmic drug treatment group and 1 patient in the PVI group were lost to follow-up. At the end of 1-year follow-up, 22 (63%) of 35 patients who received antiarrhythmic drugs had at least 1 recurrence of symptomatic AF compared with 4 (13%) of 32 patients who received PVI (P<.001). Hospitalization during 1-year follow-up occurred in 19 (54%) of 35 patients in the antiarrhythmic drug group compared with 3 (9%) of 32 in the PVI group (P<.001). In the antiarrhythmic drug group, the mean (SD) number of AF episodes decreased from 12 (7) to 6 (4), after initiating therapy (P = .01). At 6-month follow-up, the improvement in quality of life of patients in the PVI group was significantly better than the improvement in the antiarrhythmic drug group in 5 subclasses of the Short-Form 36 health survey. There were no thromboembolic events in either group. Asymptomatic mild or moderate pulmonary vein stenosis was documented in 2 (6%) of 32 patients in the PVI group.

Conclusion: Pulmonary vein isolation appears to be a feasible first-line approach for treating patients with symptomatic AF. Larger studies are needed to confirm its safety and efficacy.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / therapy*
  • Catheter Ablation*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Pulmonary Veins
  • Quality of Life
  • Survival Analysis
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents