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CMAJ. 2004 Sep 28;171(7):741-5.

Limitations to antiarrhythmic drug use in patients with atrial fibrillation.

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Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia and Centre for Health Evaluation & Outcomes Sciences, Vancouver, BC. <>



Of the antiarrhythmic agents currently marketed in Canada, 5 are commonly used to treat atrial fibrillation (AF). The impact of contraindications, warnings and precautions for the use of these drugs in patients with AF is not known. We evaluated the proportion of patients with AF for whom contraindications, warnings and/or precautions might limit the use of these commonly prescribed drugs and the proportion of patients actually receiving antiarrhythmic drugs despite the presence of contraindications and/or warnings.


A total of 723 patients with electrocardiographically confirmed, new-onset paroxysmal AF who were enrolled in the Canadian Registry of Atrial Fibrillation were used in this analysis. The 1996 Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialties was used to obtain contraindications, warnings and precautions for use of 5 antiarrhythmic drugs: flecainide, quinidine, sotalol, amiodarone and propafenone. Proportions of patients with contraindications, warnings and/or precautions for use of any of these drugs owing to comorbid conditions or concomitant drug therapy were calculated, regardless of whether the drugs had been prescribed. We then calculated the proportion of patients taking each antiarrhythmic drug at 3 months despite contraindications and/or warnings.


At baseline, when conditions for contraindications and warnings were combined, 414 (57%), 235 (33%), 327 (45%), 285 (39%) and 272 (38%) patients had restrictions for the use of flecainide, quinidine, sotalol, amiodarone and propafenone respectively. Among 465 patients actually taking these medications at 3-month follow-up, 33.3% (2/6), 83.3% (40/48), 36.4% (92/253), 64.1% (25/39) and 34.5% (41/119) respectively had contraindications and/or warnings against their use. The burden of comorbid disease among patients with AF was noteworthy: 404 (56%) had structural heart disease, which included 227 (31%) with ischemic heart disease, 158 (22%) with left ventricular systolic dysfunction and 106 (15%) with heart failure.


The high burden of comorbid disease and concomitant drug use in a large proportion of patients with AF limits the suitability of existing antiarrhythmic drugs. Over one-third of patients with new-onset AF received antiarrhythmic drugs despite the presence of contraindications or warnings. Although such restrictions may not preclude the use of these drugs, the results demonstrate the need for new antiarrhythmic drugs with fewer limitations.

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