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Curr Treat Options Cardiovasc Med. 2013 Jun;15(3):299-312. doi: 10.1007/s11936-013-0234-9.

Atrial fibrillation and stroke: the evolving role of rhythm control.

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  • 1Division of Cardiology, Department of Internal Medicine, Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, 251 East Huron Street, Feinberg 8-503, Chicago, IL, 60611, USA.



Atrial fibrillation (AF) remains a major risk factor for stroke. Unfortunately, clinical trials have failed to demonstrate that a strategy of rhythm control--therapy to maintain normal sinus rhythm (NSR)--reduces stroke risk. The apparent lack of benefit of rhythm control likely reflects the difficulty in maintaining NSR using currently available therapies. However, there are signals from several trials that the presence of NSR is indeed beneficial and associated with better outcomes related to stroke and mortality. Most electrophysiologists feel that as rhythm control strategies continue to improve, the crucial link between rhythm control and stroke reduction will finally be demonstrated. Therefore, AF specialists tend to be aggressive in their attempts to maintain NSR, especially in patients who have symptomatic AF. A step-wise approach from antiarrhythmic drugs to catheter ablation to cardiac surgery is generally used. In select patients, catheter ablation or cardiac surgery may supersede antiarrhythmic drugs. The choice depends on the type of AF, concurrent heart disease, drug toxicity profiles, procedural risks, and patient preferences. Regardless of strategy, given the limited effectiveness of currently available rhythm control therapies, oral anticoagulation is still recommended for stroke prophylaxis in AF patients with other stroke risk factors. Major challenges in atrial fibrillation management include selecting patients most likely to benefit from rhythm control, choosing specific antiarrhythmic drugs or procedures to achieve rhythm control, long-term monitoring to gauge the efficacy of rhythm control, and determining which (if any) patients may safely discontinue anticoagulation if long-term NSR is achieved.

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