Whether a rate control or rhythm control strategy is chosen is very specific to each individual patient. Factors to consider are: ability to tolerate medications, degree of symptoms, degree of functional limitation, occupation, age, and other co-morbidities. While many practitioners may have preferences for a particular strategy, the ACC recommends following the guidelines referenced below1 and considering referral to a cardiologist with experience managing heart rhythm disorders.

Click here to download a Print Quality PDF of Table 1

Table 1: Recommended Drug Doses for Heart Rate Control in Patients with Atrial Fibrillation
Drug* Dose Form Loading or Starting Dose† Maintenance Dose† Potential Adverse Effects**
Amiodarone§,1 IV 150 mg over 10 min 0.5-1 mg/min

hypotension, heart block, sinus bradycardia, bronchospasm, HF, pulmonary toxicity, s kin discoloration, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, corneal deposits, optic neuropathy, warfarin interaction

See black box warnings for this drug

Oral 800 mg PO daily x 1 week, then 600 mg PO daily x 1 week, then 400 mg PO daily x 4 to 6 weeks, then 200 mg daily Individual to patient
Atenolol2 Oral 25-100 mg daily Same as starting dose hypotension, heart block, bradycardia, bronchospasm, HF
Carvedilol2 Oral 3.125-25 mg every 12 hrs (up to 50mg every 12 hrs for patients >85 kg). May use carvedilol sustained release 10-80 mg daily Same as starting dose

hypotension, heart block, bradycardia, bronchospasm, HF

See black box warnings for this drug

Digoxin1,4 IV 0.25 mg every 4-6 hrs up to 1 mg 0.125-0.25 mg daily (or orally) life threatening arrhythmia, perceived color change, heart block, bronchospasm
Diltiazem1,2 IV 0.25 mg/kg over 2 min. 2nd bolus can be given if HR > 100 bpm. 5-15 mg/hr hypotension, heart block, HF
Oral Start with a non-sustained release dose 120-480 mg daily. Can switch to a slow-release/extended release dose, which is available and preferred Same as starting dose
Esmolol1 IV 500 mcg/kg over 1 min 50-200 mcg/kg/min

hypotension, heart block, bradycardia, bronchospasm , HF

See black box warnings for this drug

Metoprolol1,2 IV 2.5-5 mg bolus over 2 min, up to 3 doses N/A

hypotension, heart block, bradycardia, bronchospasm , HF

See black box warnings for this drug

Oral 25-100 mg twice daily. May use metoprolol succinate ER 25-200 mg daily Same as starting dose
Verapamil1,2,4 IV 0.075-0.15 mg/kg over 2 mins. 2nd bolus can be given in 15-30 mins if needed N/A hypotension, heart block, HF
Oral Start with a non-sustained release dose 120-480 mg daily. Can switch to a slow-release/extended release dose, which is available and preferred Same as starting dose
Table 2: Recommended Drug Doses f or Heart Rhythm Control in Patients with Atrial Fibrillation
Drug* Dose Form Loading or Starting Dose† Maintenance Dose† Potential Adverse Effects**
Amiodarone1 Oral Inpatient: 1.2 to 1.8 g per day in divided dose until 10 g total or 30 mg/kg as single dose

Outpatient: 600 to 800 mg per day divided dose until 10 g total

While 10 g desired to see max efficacy, does not have to be completed as an inpatient before fully loaded.4

200-400 mg per day

hypotension, bradycardia, QT prolongation, torsades de pointes (rare), GI upset, constipation, phlebitis (IV), photosensitivity, pulmonary toxicity, polyneuropathy, hepatic toxicity, thyroid dysfunction, eye complications

See black box warnings for this drug

Dofetilide1 Oral
Creatinine Clearance Dose
> 60 mL/min = 500 mcg BID
40 - 60 mL/min = 250 mcg BID
20 to 40 m L/min = 125 mcg BID
< 20 m L/min = Contraindicated
125-500 mcg every 12 hrs, based on renal function.

Must be initiated in hospital and patient must be registered to receive this drug. Adjust dose for renal function, body size and age.

QT prolongation, torsades de pointes

See black box warnings for this drug

Dronedarone2 Oral 400 mg twice daily, with meals Same as starting dose

bradycardia, heart block, HF, hepatic toxicity, pulmonary toxicity, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, asthenia, stroke, death

See black box warnings for this drug

Flecainide1,2 Oral 200-300 mg1, ‡

When starting a patient on flecainide, it is prudent to do a treadmill stress test after the patient is fully loaded.3

50 to 150 mg every 12 hrs2 hypotension, atrial flutter with high ventricular rate, ventricular tachycardia, HF

Close monitoring of this drug is required.

See black box warnings for this drug

Ibutilide1,2 IV 1 mg over 10 min; repeat 1 mg when necessary (but risk of proarrhythmia increases) N/A

QT prolongation, torsades de pointes

See black box warnings for this drug

Propafenone1,2 Oral 600 mg 150-300 mg every 8 hrs, or sustained release

225-425 mg every 12 hrs

hypotension, atrial flutter with high ventricular rate

See black box warnings for this drug

Sotalol1,2 Oral 80-160 mg, to a max of 320 mg every 12 hrs, based on renal function

Creatinine clearance should be calculated prior to dosing.

Same as starting dose

torsades de pointes, HF, bradycardia, exacerbation of chronic obstructive or bronchospastic lung disease

See black box warnings for this drug

*Drugs are listed alphabetically.

† Dosages given in the table may differ from those re commended by the manufacturers.

**Refer to prescribing information for more complete information.

§ Amiodarone can be useful to control heart rate in patients with atrial fibrillation when other measures are unsuccessful or c ontraindicated

Notes: AF = atria l fibrillation; BID = twice a day; GI = gastrointestinal; IV = intravenous; HR = heart rate; HF = heart failure; N/A = not ap plicable.

Click on drug names in table for more detailed usage information for each drug.


Sources:

  1. American College of Cardiology Foundation (ACCF), American Heart Association (AHA), and Heart Rhythm Society (HRS). 2011 ACCF/AHA/HRS Focused Updates Incorporated Into the ACC/AHA/ESC 2006 Guidelines for the Management of Patients With Atrial Fibrillation. Washington, DC: American College of Cardiology Foundation. Available at http://content.onlinejacc.org/cgi/content/full/57/11/e101.
  2. Heart Rhythm Society. AF 360 Pocket Guide: Practical Rate and Rhythm Management of Atrial Fibrillation. 2010, Washington, DC: Heart Rhythm Society.
  3. Razavi, M. 2005. Safe and Effective Pharmacologic Management of Arrhythmias. Texas Heart Institute Journal, 2005; 32 (2) : 209 – 211 . Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1163475/
  4. Professional clinical guidance provided by ACC members of the Best Practices & Quality Improvement Subcommittee.