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Postgrad Med. 2012 Nov;124(6):26-35. doi: 10.3810/pgm.2012.11.2610.

Contemporary approach to electrical and pharmacological cardioversion of atrial fibrillation.

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Department of Medicine, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14203, USA.


In patients with atrial fibrillation (AF), a rhythm-control strategy may be adopted when there are unacceptable symptoms from AF, failure of rate control, and/or the presence of comorbidities, such as heart failure, that may improve with restoration of sinus rhythm. When a rhythm-control strategy is chosen and the patient is in persistent AF, cardioversion will be necessary to convert the rhythm to sinus. Patients with AF present for > 48 hours must be effectively anticoagulated both prior to and after cardioversion. With newer oral anticoagulants, achieving effective anticoagulation is faster and more reliable, with no requirement for blood test monitoring. Cardioversion can be accomplished either electrically or pharmacologically, and in some cases, electrical cardioversion may be facilitated pharmacologically. Electrical cardioversion has a higher success rate compared with pharmacological cardioversion in the short-term. Pharmacological cardioversion is usually accomplished with intravenous ibutilide, oral flecainide or propafenone, or intravenous amiodarone. Oral amiodarone and dofetilide also result in chemical cardioversion in some patients over a longer period of time. Long-term success in the maintenance of sinus rhythm post-cardioversion can be increased with the use of antiarrhythmic drugs. Alternatively, when AF is recurrent and symptomatic despite the use of antiarrhythmic drugs, catheter ablation is a reasonable option for many patients. Cardioversion may be incorporated into the management approach of persistent AF when the primary therapeutic option chosen is catheter ablation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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