Cost Effectiveness of Therapies for Atrial Fibrillation: A Review
Mark P. Teng
Daniel P. Melby
Atrial fibrillation is the most common supraventricular tachyarrhythmia encountered in clinical practice, affecting over 5% of persons over the age of 65 years. A common pathophysiological mechanism for arrhythmia development is atrial distention and fibrosis induced by hypertension, coronary artery disease or ventricular dysfunction. Less frequently, atrial fibrillation is caused by mitral stenosis or other provocative factors such as thyrotoxicosis, pericarditis or alcohol intoxication. Depending on the extent of associated cardiovascular disease, atrial fibrillation may produce haemodynamic compromise, or symptoms such as palpitations, fatigue, chest pain or dyspnoea. Arrhythmia-induced atrial stasis can precipitate clot formation and the potential for subsequent thromboembolism. Comprehensive management of atrial fibrillation requires a multifaceted approach directed at controlling symptoms, protecting the patient from ischaemic stroke or peripheral embolism and possible conversion to or maintenance of sinus rhythm. Numerous randomised trials have demonstrated the efficacy of warfarin - and less so aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) - in reducing the risk of embolic events. Furthermore, therapeutic strategies exist that can favourably modify symptoms by restoring and maintaining sinus rhythm with cardioversion and antiarrhythmic prophylaxis. However, the risks and benefits of various treatments is highly dependent on patient-specific features, emphasising the need for an individualised approach. This article reviews the findings of cost-effectiveness studies published over the past decade that have evaluated different components of treatment strategies for atrial fibrillation. These studies demonstrate the economic attractiveness of acute management options, long term warfarin prophylaxis, telemetry-guided initiation of antiarrhythmic therapy, approaches to restore and maintain sinus rhythm, and the potential role of transoesophageal echocardiographic screening for atrial thrombus prior to pharmacological or electrical cardioversion. Further, we discuss the merits and limitations of the cost-effectiveness analyses in the context of overall treatment strategies. Finally, we identify areas that will require additional research to achieve the goal of effective and economically efficient management of atrial fibrillation.
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