Little is known about national patterns of pharmacological treatment of atrial fibrillation, in particular, use of medications for ventricular rate control and for restoration and maintenance of sinus rhythm.Methods
We analyzed 1555 visits by patients with atrial fibrillation to randomly selected office-based US physicians included in National Ambulatory Medical Care surveys conducted in 1980, 1981, 1985, and 1989 through 1996. To determine national trends, we evaluated the proportion of atrial fibrillation visits with reported use of rate control medications (digoxin and antiarrhythmics in classes II and IV) and sinus rhythm medications (classes IA, IC, and III).Results
The use of rate control agents decreased from 79% of atrial fibrillation visits in 1980-1981 to 62% in 1994-1996. Declining use was noted for both digoxin (76% in 1980-1981 to 53% in 1994-1996) and beta-blockers (19%-13%). After their introduction, the use of verapamil hydrochloride and diltiazem hydrochloride increased to 15% of atrial fibrillation visits in 1994-1996. Sinus rhythm agent use decreased from 18% of visits in 1980-1981 to 4% in 1992-1993 and then rose to 13% in 1994-1996. The use of class IA agents declined from 18% in 1980-1981 to 3.5% in 1992-1993 and then increased to 8% in 1994-1996. Quinidine remained the most widely used sinus rhythm medication, despite its declining share of this category. Newly available sotalol hydrochloride and amiodarone hydrochloride were used in 3.6% of visits in 1994-1996.Conclusions
Despite changes in the treatment of atrial fibrillation, digoxin remains the dominant rate control medication. Medications for sinus rhythm maintenance are not widely used. Quinidine use declined prominently in the 1980s, possibly because of concerns about proarrhythmic effects. The use of sinus rhythm agents, however, is now rising.