Read your latest personalised notifications
No account yet? Start here
Don't miss out
Ok, got it
Dr. Sara Moreno Reviriego
Cardiac resynchronisation therapy has become an essential therapeutic tool in the treatment of heart failure patient. In spite of its excellent results, its usefulness in the patient with atrial fibrillation is controversial. Several observational studies and a randomized study showed similar benefits to the patient in sinus rhythm.
Despite advances in treatment over the past decades, heart failure remains a highly prevalent, worldwide problem incurring high morbidity and mortality. Since its first clinical application in the 1990s, cardiac resynchronisation therapy (CRT) has become an essential therapeutic tool in the treatment of heart failure today (1-3). Its aim is to restore electrical synchrony, commonly impaired in these patients, and thus, restore cardiac function. Although its results have been excellent (4), there are still 20-30% of patients who do not respond to therapy. Therefore, it is essential to make a careful selection of candidates. A number of randomised trials have supported its recommendation in patients in sinus rhythm, NYHA functional class III-IV, LVEF ≤ 35% and QRS ≥120 ms (5) (figure 1). While this indication is clear, there is some uncertainty with respect to various sub-populations underrepresented in clinical trials. In this article, we review the case of patients with atrial fibrillation.
The prevalence of atrial fibrillation (AF) in patients with heart failure is high, especially in those with advanced forms of it. It has been reported that in patients in NYHA functional class I prevalence is 5%, it is from 10 to 25% in patients with NYHA class II or III, and up to 50% in patients in functional class IV6 (figure 2). However, only 2% (7) of patients in randomised studies supporting the benefits and indications for CRT have AF. This low representation is justified for several reasons. On the one hand, patients with AF are usually patients with higher comorbidity and therefore less likely to be included in a clinical trial. On the other hand, in the absence of atrioventricular node ablation, AF reduces the likelihood of obtaining adequate pacing percentage and introduces a reasonable element of confusion when interpreting the results of these studies. There are other physiopathological arguments that prevent extrapolating evidence obtained in sinus rhythm patients to AF patients. During AF, atrioventricular synchrony, one of the main benefits of the CRT, is lost. This fact can be relevant when AF is permanent or persists for long periods. Moreover, the presence in varying degrees of salvos of high ventricular rate, not only make it difficult to ensure an adequate percentage of biventricular pacing, but should it even be obtained, it will be difficult to ensure that sequence of ventricular contraction is appropriate considering the possibility of fusion beats by partial capture through the conduction system of the patient. That is, an adequate percentage of stimulation does not guarantee an adequate capture and sequence of stimulation in AF patients. As a result we cannot directly assume the published evidence for patients in sinus rhythm.
Over the last decade, studies aimed at patients with AF and heart failure have been carried out. In 1999, Etienne et al (8) published the results of a small series of 28 patients (17 in atrial fibrillation and 11 in sinus rhythm) with heart failure NYHA functional class III or IV, LVEF ≤ 35% and left bundle branch block. They noted that hemodynamic measures (systolic blood pressure, cardiac index and pulmonary capillary pressure) improved similarly in sinus rhythm and atrial fibrillation and that the improvement was independent of the length of the PR in patients in sinus rhythm. The latter observation was attributed to a lower than expected contribution of atrioventricular synchrony in these patients. A year later, Leclerq et al (9) compared the long-term clinical effects of permanent biventricular pacing in 22 patients with stable sinus rhythm and 15 with chronic atrial fibrillation and atrioventricular junction ablation. They showed that the benefits in terms of functional class, oxygen consumption and LVEF were similar or greater in patients with AF (14 ± 9.4 months of follow-up). This study provided the basis for one of the most relevant trials in cardiac resynchronisation therapy for patients both in sinus rhythm and atrial fibrillation: the MUltisite STImulation in Cardiomyopathies trial (MUSTIC). Investigators in this study performed the first randomised controlled crossover study in order to evaluate the clinical efficacy of ventricular resynchronisation in two distinct groups of patients: patients with stable sinus rhythm without indication for pacing (10) and patients with atrial fibrillation that required permanent ventricular pacing because of spontaneous or induced impairment of auriculoventricular conduction (11). In the sub-study of atrial fibrillation (AF MUSTIC), 64 NYHA class III patients with LVEF ≤ 35% who had permanent AF and the aforementioned pacemaker dependency were included. They compared the responses of these patients over two periods: a three month period of conventional right ventricular pacing and a three month period of biventricular pacing. When the patients who completed the study were assessed, an increase in distance walked at 6 minutes and oxygen consumption and a reduction in hospitalisation rates at 6 months of follow-up was observed. A subsequent publication confirmed that this benefit remained at 9 and 12 months in both study cohorts (12). The main drawback of this study was the higher than expected drop out rate (27 patients or 42% withdrew before completing the 6-month crossover phase). The reasons for discontinuation were diverse: mortality (cardiovascular or not), failed implant, dislocation of the electrode and stimulated QRS <180 ms after randomisation. All analyses were based on the intention-to-treat principle, which limited the benefits of randomisation and reduced the sample size and, thus, its statistical power. A further objection was the existence of a baseline period of right ventricular pacing (8-14 weeks) since its unknown undesirable effects (13-16), particularly in a population with heart failure and systolic dysfunction, may have modified the characteristics of the population initially included. Despite its methodological difficulties, the benefits suggested by this study, precluded the further development of new randomised trials in this matter for ethical reasons. Nevertheless, numerous observational studies (17-23) have shown similar benefits to those obtained in patients in sinus rhythm: improvement in functional class, quality of life, distance walked in 6 minutes, oxygen consumption and LVEF and, conversely, reductions in the ventricular end diastolic and systolic diameters, mitral regurgitation, heart failure hospitalisation and mortality. Moreover, these findings have been supported by a recent meta-analysis (24) conducted to determine the differential impact of CRT for patients in AF and sinus rhythm. Four prospective cohort studies and a subgroup of one randomised trial were analyzed. These studies included a total of 1164 patients of whom 797 were in sinus rhythm and 367 were in AF. They concluded that patients in AF show significant improvement after CRT, with similar or improved ejection fraction as sinus rhythm patients, but smaller benefits in regard to functional outcomes.
The European Society of Cardiology Guidelines for Cardiac Pacing and Cardiac Resynchronisation Therapy published in 2007 were the first to include patients with AF between the candidates for CRT. They considered it reasonable to implant a biventricular pacemaker in patients with LVEF ≤ 35%, NYHA III-IV despite optimal pharmacological treatment, left ventricular dilatation, permanent AF and indication for atrioventricular junction ablation (class IIa recommendation, level of evidence C). In the recent update of these guidelines (5), and considering the results of new and more extensive observational studies, this indication remains with level of evidence B for patients dependent on ventricular pacing and C for those with slow ventricular response who are expected to achieve an adequate percentage of biventricular pacing (Figure 3). There are three additional considerations:
Figure 1. Modifications in the 2010 update of the European Society of Cardiology guidelines on device therapy in heart failure. Class I recommendation. CRT-P: Cardiac resynchronisation device. CRT-D device for cardiac resynchronisation and defibrillation. LVEF: Left ventricular ejection fraction. LV dilatation: LV diastolic diameter> 55 mm, LV end-diastolic diameter> 30 mm/m2, LV end-diastolic diameter> 30 mm / m2 of height. Ambulatory class IV: Class IV patients who have not been hospitalised in the past month and with a life expectancy greater than 6 months.
Figure 2. Prevalence of atrial fibrillation according to NYHA function class. Modified from Maisel WH, Stevenson LW. Atrial fibrillation in heart failure: Epidemiology, pathophysiology, and rationale for therapy. Am J Cardiol 2003; 91(suppl): 2D–8D6. Figure 3. Modifications in the 2010 update of the European Society of Cardiology guidelines on device therapy in heart failure. Recommendations in patients with heart failure and permanent atrial fibrillation. CRT-P: Cardiac resynchronisation device. CRT-D device for cardiac resynchronisation and defibrillation. LVEF: Left ventricular ejection fraction. LV dilatation: LV diastolic diameter> 55 mm, LV end-diastolic diameter> 30 mm/m2, LV end-diastolic diameter> 30 mm / m2 of height. AF: atrial fibrillation. AV: atrioventricular.
The prevalence of atrial fibrillation in patients with advanced heart failure is high. Only 2% of patients in randomised studies supporting the benefits and indications for CRT have AF. The loss of atrioventricular synchrony and the difficulty to ensure effective biventricular pacing prevent extrapolation of evidence obtained in patients with a sinus rhythm. Several observational studies and a randomised study showed similar benefits to the patient with a sinus rhythm in terms of functional capacity and reverse remodelling in patients with permanent atrial fibrillation. Current guidelines recommend the use of CRT in patients in permanent AF with NYHA function class III-IV, LVEF < 35%, QRS ≥ 130 ms and who are likely to achieve an adequate percentage of biventricular pacing. This recommendation is specifically aimed at reducing morbidity due to insufficient evidence regarding the effect of CRT in mortality in this subgroup of patients.
(1) Dickstein K, Cohen-Solal A, Filippatos G et al. ESC Guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic heart failure 2008: the Task Force for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Acute and Chronic Heart Failure 2008 of the European Society of Cardiology. Developed in collaboration with the Heart Failure Association of the ESC (HFA) and endorsed by the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine (ESICM). Eur Heart J 2008; 29: 2388–442. (2) De Teresa E, Chamorro JL, Pulpón LA. An even more physiological pacing. Changing the sequence of activation. En: Steinbach K, Glogar D, Laszkovics A, editores. Cardiac Pacing. Proceedings of the VIIth World Symposium on Cardiac Pacing. Darmstadt, Alemania: Steinkoopff Verlag, 1983; 395-400. (3) Cazeau S, Ritter P, Bakdach S. Four chamber pacing in dilated cardiomyopahy. PACE 1994; 17: 1974-1979. (4) McAlister FA, Ezekowitz J, Hooton N, et al. Cardiac resynchronization therapy for patients with left ventricular systolic dysfunction. A systematic review. JAMA. 2007; 297: 2502-2514. (5) Dickstein K, Vardas PE, Auricchio A, et al. 2010. Focused update of the European Society of Cardiology guidelines on device therapy in heart failure. An update of the 2008 European Society of Cardiology guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic heart failure and the 2007 European Society of Cardiology guidelines for cardiac and resynchronization therapy. Eur Heart J 2010; 31: 2677-2687. (6) Maisel WH, Stevenson LW. Atrial fibrillation in heart failure: Epidemiology, pathophysiology, and rationale for therapy. Am J Cardiol 2003; 91(suppl): 2D–8D. (7) Vardas PE, Auricchio A, Blanc JJ, et al. Guidelines for cardiac pacing and cardiac resynchronization therapy. The Task Force for Cardiac Pacing and Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy of the European Society of Cardiology. Developed in collaboration with the European Heart Rhythm Association. Eur Heart J 2007; 28: 2256–2295. (8) Etienne Y, Mansourati J, Gilard M, et al. Evaluation of left ventricular based pacing in patients with congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation. Am J Cardiol 1999; 83: 1138-1140. (9) Leclercq C, Victor F, Alonso C, et al. Comparative effects of permanent biventricular pacing for refractory heart failure in patients with stable sinus rhythm or chronic atrial fibrillation. Am J Cardiol 2000; 85: 1154-1156. (10) Cazeau S, Leclercq C, Lavergne T, et al. Effects of multisite biventricular pacing in patients with heart failure and intraventricular conduction delay. N Engl J Med 2001; 344: 873-80. (11) Leclercq C, Walker S, Linde C, et al. Comparative effects of permanent biventricular and right-univentricular pacing in heart failure patients with chronic atrial fibrillation. Eur Heart J 2002; 23: 1780–1787. (12) Linde C, Leclercq C, Rex S, et al. Long-term benefits of biventricular pacing in congestive heart failure: Results from the MUltisite STimulation in Cardiomyopathy (MUSTIC) Study. J Am Coll Cardiol 2002; 40: 111– 8. (13) The DAVID Trial Investigators. Dual-chamber pacing or ventricular backup pacing in patients with an implantable defibrillator: The dual chamber and VVI implantable defibrillator (DAVID) trial. JAMA 2002; 285: 3115–3123. (14) Steinberg JS, Fischer A, Wang P, et al., for the MADIT II Investigators. The clinical implications of cumulative right ventricular pacing in the multicenter automatic defibrillator trial II. J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol 2005; 16: 359–365. (15) Sweeney MO, Hellkamp AS, Ellenbogen KA, et al. for the MOST Investigators. Adverse effect of ventricular pacing on heart failure and atrial fibrillation among patients with normal baseline QRS duration in a clinical trial of pacemaker therapy for sinus node dysfunction. Circulation 2003; 107:2932–2937. (16) Doshi RN, Dauod EG, Fellows C, et al. Left ventricular-based cardiac stimulation post AV nodal ablation evaluation (The PAVE Study). J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol 2005; 16: 1160-1165. (17) Molhoek SG, Bax JJ, Bleeker GB, et al. Comparison of response to cardiac resynchronization therapy in patients with sinus rhythm versus chronic atrial fibrillation. Am J Cardiol 2004; 94: 1506–9. (18) Kies P, Leclercq C, Bleeker GB, et al. Cardiac resynchronisation therapy in chronic atrial fibrillation: impact on left atrial size and reversal to sinus rhythm. Heart. 2006; 92: 490-494. (19) Delnoy PP, Ottervanger JP, Luttikhuis HO, et al. Comparison of usefulness of cardiac resynchronization therapy in patients with atrial fibrillation and heart failure versus patients with sinus rhythm and heart failure. Am J Cardiol. 2007; 99: 1252-1257. (20) Khadjooi K, Foley P, Anthony J, et al. Long-term effects of cardiac resynchronisation therapy in patients with atrial fibrillation. Heart 2008; 94: 879-883. (21) Gasparini M, Auricchio A, Regoli F, et al. Four-year efficacy of cardiac resynchronization therapy on exercise tolerance and disease progression: the importance of performing atrioventricular junction ablation in patients with atrial fibrillation. J Am Coll Cardiol 2006; 48: 734 – 743. (22) Gasparini M, Auricchio A, Metra M, et al. Long-term survival in patients undergoing cardiac resynchronization therapy: the importance of performing atrio-ventricular junction ablation in patients with permanent atrial fibrillation. European Heart Journal 2008; 29: 1644–1652. (23) Ferreira AM, Adragao P, Cavaco D; et al. Benefit of cardiac resynchronization therapy in atrial fibrillation patients vs. patients in sinus rhythm: the role of atrioventricular junction ablation. Europace 2008; 10: 809 – 815. (24) Upadhyay GA, Choudhry NK, Auricchio, et al. Cardiac resynchronization in patients with atrial fibrillation. A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. J Am Coll Cardiol 2008; 52: 1239–46.
Sara Moreno Reviriego Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology Unit, Cardiology Service, General Hospital Nuestra Señora del Prado, Talavera de la Reina (Spain)
Albania Society of Cardiology
Qendra Spitalore Universitare "Nene Tereza"Rruga e Dibres, Nr. 370
Send an Email
Our mission: To reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease
© 2019 European Society of Cardiology. All rights reserved