A variety of antiarrhythmic drugs have been used to prevent recurrence of atrial fibrillation after conversion to sinus rhythm. We performed a systematic review to determine the effect of long-term treatment with those drugs on death, embolisms, adverse effects, and atrial fibrillation recurrence.
We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane Library (all up to May 2005), and the reference lists of retrieved articles. We included randomized controlled trials that compared any antiarrhythmic against control (placebo or no treatment) or another antiarrhythmic, for more than 6 months. Postoperative atrial fibrillation was excluded. Two evaluators independently reviewed the retrieved studies and extracted all data. Disagreements were resolved by discussion. All results were calculated at 1 year of follow-up.
Forty-four trials were included, with a total of 11 322 patients. Several class IA (disopyramide phosphate, quinidine sulfate), class IC (flecainide acetate, propafenone hydrochloride), and class III (amiodarone, dofetilide, sotalol hydrochloride) drugs significantly reduced recurrence of atrial fibrillation (number needed to treat, 2-9), but all increased withdrawals due to adverse effects (number needed to harm [NNH], 9-27) and all but amiodarone and propafenone increased proarrhythmia (NNH, 17-119). Class IA drugs, pooled, were associated with increased mortality compared with controls (Peto odds ratio, 2.39; 95% confidence interval, 1.03-5.59; P = .04; NNH, 109). No other antiarrhythmic showed a significant effect on mortality compared with controls. We could not analyze other outcomes because data were lacking.
Class IA, IC, and III drugs are effective in maintaining sinus rhythm but increase adverse effects, and class IA drugs may increase mortality.