The changing face of postoperative atrial fibrillation prevention: a review of current medical therapy

Cardiol Rev. 2007 Sep-Oct;15(5):231-41. doi: 10.1097/CRD.0b013e31813e62bb.


Atrial fibrillation is the most common postoperative arrhythmia with significant consequences on patient health. Postoperative atrial fibrillation (POAF) complicates up to 8% of all noncardiac surgeries, between 3% and 30% of noncardiac thoracic surgeries, and between 16% and 46% of cardiac surgeries. POAF has been associated with increased morbidity, mortality, and longer, more costly hospital stays. The risk of POAF after cardiac and noncardiac surgery may be affected by several epidemiologic and intraoperative factors, as well as by the presence of preexisting cardiovascular and pulmonary disorders. POAF is typically a transient, reversible phenomenon that may develop in patients who possess an electrophysiologic substrate for the arrhythmia that is present before or as a result of surgery. Numerous studies support the efficacy of beta-blockers in POAF prevention; they are currently the most common medication used in POAF prophylaxis. Perioperative amiodarone, sotalol, nondihydropyridine calcium channel blockers, and magnesium sulfate have been associated with a reduction in the occurrence of POAF. Biatrial pacing is a nonpharmacologic method that has been associated with a reduced risk of POAF. Additionally, recent studies have demonstrated that hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA reductase inhibitors may decrease the risk of POAF. Finally, based on recent evidence that angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers reduce the risk of permanent atrial fibrillation, these medications may also hold promise in POAF prophylaxis. However, there is a need for further large-scale investigations that incorporate standard methodologies and diagnostic criteria, which have been lacking in past trials.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Amiodarone / therapeutic use
  • Angiotensin Receptor Antagonists
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / therapeutic use
  • Atrial Fibrillation / diagnosis
  • Atrial Fibrillation / epidemiology
  • Atrial Fibrillation / etiology
  • Atrial Fibrillation / physiopathology
  • Atrial Fibrillation / prevention & control*
  • Calcium Channel Blockers / therapeutic use
  • Cardiac Pacing, Artificial
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / adverse effects
  • Coronary Artery Bypass / adverse effects
  • Digoxin / therapeutic use
  • Heart Conduction System / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Magnesium Sulfate / therapeutic use
  • Postoperative Complications / diagnosis
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology
  • Postoperative Complications / physiopathology
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Recurrence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Sotalol / therapeutic use
  • Survival Analysis
  • Thoracic Surgical Procedures / adverse effects


  • Angiotensin Receptor Antagonists
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents
  • Calcium Channel Blockers
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors
  • Digoxin
  • Magnesium Sulfate
  • Sotalol
  • Amiodarone