Background: In the treatment of patients with refractory atrial fibrillation (AF), the safety and efficacy of atrioventricular nodal ablation (AVNA) versus pharmacotherapy alone remains unclear. Additionally, the impact of AVNA in patients with reduced systolic function is of growing interest.
Methods and results: A total of 5 randomized or prospective trials were included for efficacy review (314 patients), 11 studies for effectiveness review (810 patients), and 47 studies for safety review (5632 patients). All-cause mortality was similar between AVNA and medical therapy (3.1% versus 3.3%; relative risk ratio, 1.05; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.29-3.85). There was no significant difference in exercise duration or ejection fraction (EF) with AVNA relative to pharmacotherapy. In subgroup analysis, patients with baseline systolic dysfunction (116 patients; mean EF, 44%) showed significant relative improvement in EF after AVNA (+4% greater; 95% CI, 3.11-4.89). In pooled observational analysis, AVNA was also associated with significant improvement in EF only in patients with systolic dysfunction (+7.44%; 95% CI, 5.4-9.5). The incidence of procedure-related mortality (0.27%) and malignant arrhythmia (0.57%) was low. At mean follow-up of 26.5 months, the incidence of sudden cardiac death after AVNA was 2.1%. There was significant heterogeneity in quality-of-life scales used; compared with pharmacotherapy, AVNA was associated with significant improvement in several symptoms (palpitations, dyspnea).
Conclusions: In the management of refractory AF, AVNA is associated with improvement in symptoms and quality of life, with a low incidence of procedure morbidity. In patients with reduced systolic function, AVNA demonstrates small but significantly improved echocardiographic outcomes relative to medical therapy alone.