Treatment strategies for atrial fibrillation

Am J Med. 1998 Mar;104(3):272-86. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9343(97)00346-x.


Atrial fibrillation is the most common arrhythmia observed in clinical practice, occurring in 0.4% of the general population and in up to 4% of people greater than 60 years old. It is often associated with other cardiovascular disorders, such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathy. Critical evaluation and management of patients with atrial fibrillation requires knowledge of etiology, prognosis, and treatment options of this arrhythmia. On initial presentation, emergency electrical cardioversion should be performed if the patient is hemodynamically unstable. If the patient is stable, initial rate control is recommended, using atrioventricular nodal blocking agents. Further treatment mainly depends upon the duration of the episode. Patients who are in atrial fibrillation <48 hours can be safely cardioverted. Patients who are in atrial fibrillation for >48 hours are commonly anticoagulated for 3 to 4 weeks before and after cardioversion because of the risk of thromboembolism formation in the left atrial appendage. An alternate strategy, which is especially attractive when immediate cardioversion is desired, is transesophageal echocardiography to exclude left atrial thrombus followed by prompt cardioversion. After cardioversion, sinus rhythm can be maintained with class I and III drugs, such as flecainide and propafenone or amiodarone and sotalol. New treatment options, such as atrial defibrillation, atrioventricular junctional ablation, or modification of atrial pacing to prevent atrial fibrillation, are currently under investigation. Although atrial fibrillation is so common in clinical practice, it still remains difficult to treat. Conversion and maintenance to sinus rhythm with antiarrhythmic drug therapy has not shown any improvement in mortality, and some patients may benefit more from ventricular rate control. This review article discusses different treatment strategies for patients with atrial fibrillation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / therapeutic use
  • Atrial Fibrillation / diagnosis
  • Atrial Fibrillation / epidemiology
  • Atrial Fibrillation / physiopathology
  • Atrial Fibrillation / therapy*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Electric Countershock
  • Humans


  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents