Atrial fibrillation: a review of mechanism, etiology, and therapy

Clin Cardiol. 1997 Jul;20(7):640-50. doi: 10.1002/clc.4960200711.


The prevalence of elderly individuals in the populations of developed countries is increasing rapidly, and atrial fibrillation (AF) is quite common in these elderly patients: currently, 11% of the U.S. population is between the ages of 65 and 85 years; 70% of people with AF are between the ages of 65 and 85 years. AF causes symptoms secondary to hemodynamic derangements that are the result of increased ventricular response and loss of atrial booster function. AF can lead to reversible impairment of left ventricular function, cardiac chamber dilatation, clinical heart failure, and thromboembolic events. AF requires treatment in order to prevent these potential complications. Type Ia, Ic, and III antiarrhythmics are capable of converting AF to normal sinus rhythm (NSR). Amiodarone has the greatest efficacy and safety for converting AF and maintaining NSR while digoxin and verapamil are ineffective in restoring NSR. Quinidine, flecainide, disopyramide, and sotalol have also been shown to maintain NSR after conversion of AF. Proarrhythmia is a definite concern with the latter four agents. Alternative therapy for AF includes anticoagulation with warfarin or aspirin for the prevention of thromboembolic events, and a variety of agents to control the ventricular response. All medications used to treat AF carry significant risks in the elderly, whether from proarrhythmia, overdosing because of compliance errors, or hemorrhage secondary to anticoagulation. Treatment of AF must be based on a careful risk-benefit evaluation. The physician must know the capability of the particular patient as well as drug mechanisms and effects in the elderly. The decision to convert patients from AF to NSR or to leave the patient in AF and control the ventricular response represents a complex intellectual challenge. Factors favoring one or the other of these two clinical strategies are discussed. Multicenter clinical trials, for example, the Atrial Fibrillation Follow-up Investigation Rhythm Management (AFFIRM) trial, are currently underway to assess various clinical strategies for maintenance of NSR following conversion from AF. Amiodarone is one of the drugs under investigation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / therapeutic use
  • Atrial Fibrillation / etiology*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / physiopathology
  • Atrial Fibrillation / therapy*
  • Catheter Ablation
  • Electric Countershock
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prognosis


  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents