Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common dysrhythmia in North America. Paroxysmal or persistent AF affects an estimated 2.8 million individuals, causes significant morbidity, and is associated with $1 billion in healthcare costs each year in the United States. An aging population, the prevalence of hypertension, and the emergence of heart failure as the final common pathway of heart disease finds us in an age where the incidence of AF is ever increasing and the management challenges are indeed an expanding clinical problem.
Although guidelines for selection of the appropriate pacing mode have been published, device therapy for the control of AF and paroxysmal AF is an emerging clinical management strategy. In 2001 The American College of Cardiology (ACC)/American Heart Association (AHA) published a document to revise the 1998 guidelines for device therapy, and even now these guidelines require elucidation and inclusion for the use of cardiac pacing device therapy for the control of atrial dysrhythmia. Choosing a complex system, in particular for the patient with persistent and symptomatic atrial dysrhythmia, is a most intricate challenge for the healthcare professional and the healthcare system. Rate dependent effects on refractoriness, reduction of ectopy, remodeling of the substrate, and prevention of pauses have been described as the potential mechanisms responsible for the rhythmic control effect attributed to atrial pacing. However, while permanent cardiac pacing is required for patients with symptomatic bradycardia with atrioventricular block and AF, the concept of pacing for the primary prevention of AF is novel. Pacing algorithms, single site, biatrial, and dual-site atrial pacing and site-specific pacing have all been studied as substrate modulators to prevent recurrent atrial dysrhythmia.
A dilemma exists surrounding the primary approach for the control of symptomatic AF with rapid ventricular response. The question remains: should it be to maintain the sinus rhythm or to control the ventricular response rate to the AF and anticoagulate? Variations in the population studied, differences in the pacing algorithms and protocols, and a lack of definitive end points account for the variable results of the studies completed thus far. With the current data available, it appears that for individuals with sinus node dysfunction and paroxysmal AF in combination with a bradyarrhythmia indication for pacing, suppression algorithms may play an additive role with full atrial pacing in the management and reduction of episodes and burden of paroxysmal AF. The goal of these therapies is to reduce the symptoms and hopefully decrease the healthcare costs associated with paroxysmal and persistent AF with uncontrolled ventricular response.