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Lack of evidence of increased mortality among patients with atrial fibrillation taking digoxin: findings from post hoc propensity-matched analysis of the AFFIRM trial

Mihai Gheorghiade, Gregg C. Fonarow, Dirk J. van Veldhuisen, John G.F. Cleland, Javed Butler, Andrew E. Epstein, Kanan Patel, Inmaculada B. Aban, Wilbert S. Aronow, Stefan D. Anker, Ali Ahmed
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/eht120 eht120 First published online: 16 April 2013


Aims Digoxin is recommended for long-term rate control in paroxysmal, persistent, and permanent atrial fibrillation (AF). While some analyses suggest an association of digoxin with a higher mortality in AF, the intrinsic nature of this association has not been examined in propensity-matched cohorts, which is the objective of the current study.

Methods and results In Atrial Fibrillation Follow-up Investigation of Rhythm Management (AFFIRM), 4060 patients with paroxysmal and persistent AF were randomized to rate (n = 2027) vs. rhythm (n = 2033) control strategies. Of these, 1377 received digoxin as initial therapy and 1329 received no digoxin at baseline. Propensity scores for digoxin use were estimated for each of these 2706 patients and used to assemble a cohort of 878 pairs of patients receiving and not receiving digoxin, who were balanced on 59 baseline characteristics. Matched patients had a mean age of 70 years, 40% were women, and 11% non-white. During the 3.4 years of the mean follow-up, all-cause mortality occurred in 14 and 13% of matched patients receiving and not receiving digoxin, respectively [hazard ratio (HR) associated with digoxin use: 1.06; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.83–1.37; P = 0.640]. Among matched patients, digoxin had no association with all-cause hospitalization (HR: 0.96; 95% CI: 0.85–1.09; P = 0.510) or incident non-fatal cardiac arrhythmias (HR: 0.90; 95% CI: 0.37–2.23; P = 0.827). Digoxin had no multivariable-adjusted or propensity score-adjusted associations with these outcomes in the pre-match cohort.

Conclusions In patients with paroxysmal and persistent AF, we found no evidence of increased mortality or hospitalization in those taking digoxin as baseline initial therapy.

  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Digoxin
  • Hospitalization
  • Mortality
  • Propensity score
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