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Open Access Highly Accessed Commentary

Can we improve outcomes in AF patients by early therapy?

Paulus Kirchhof

Author Affiliations

Department of Cardiology and Angiology, University Hospital Münster, Germany

German Atrial Fibrillation competence NETwork (AFNET)

BMC Medicine 2009, 7:72  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-7-72

Published: 26 November 2009


Atrial fibrillation affects at least 1% of the population and causes marked society-wide morbidity and mortality. Current management of atrial fibrillation including antithrombotic therapy and management of concomitant conditions in all patients, rate control therapy in most patients, and rhythm control therapy in patients with severe atrial fibrillation-related symptoms can alleviate atrial fibrillation-related symptoms but can neither effectively prevent recurrent atrial fibrillation nor suppress atrial fibrillation-related complications. Hence, there is a need for better therapy of atrial fibrillation.

The etiology of atrial fibrillation is complex. Most of the causes of atrial fibrillation which are known at present perpetuate themselves in vicious circles, and presence of the arrhythmia by itself causes marked damage of atrial myocardium. These pathophysiological insights suggest that early diagnosis and comprehensive therapy of atrial fibrillation, including adequate therapy of all atrial fibrillation-causing conditions, rate control, and rhythm control therapy, could help to prevent progression of atrial fibrillation and reduce atrial fibrillation-related complications. Such a therapy should make use of safe and effective therapeutic modalities, some of which have become available recently or will become available in the near future. The hypothesis that early diagnosis and early, comprehensive therapy of atrial fibrillation can improve outcomes requires formal testing in controlled trials.