July 22, 2014
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Atrial Fibrillation


Treating atrial fibrillation

Treatment for atrial fibrillation depends on your heart rhythm, how frequent or severe your symptoms are, and whether you already have other conditions (such as heart disease). People who have AF but do not have symptoms or other heart problems may not need treatment.

Each person is unique, and treatment that may work for someone else may not work for you and vice versa. That's why it's important to discuss with your doctor all your symptoms and how your treatment may be working. Your doctor may even recommend several different treatments before finding the right one for you. Because conditions and circumstances can change and irregular heartbeat can progress, your doctor must continually monitor you to help you better manage atrial fibrillation.

Treatment options for atrial fibrillation include:

  • Medications for rate control: Rate control involves using medication that slows your heart rate and prevents a rapid heartbeat. Medications that slow the heart rate include beta-blockers (e.g., nadolol, propranolol), calcium channel blockers (e.g., diltiazem, verapamil), and digitalis (e.g., digoxin).
  • Medications for rhythm control: Rhythm control involves using treatment that restores the irregular heartbeat of AF to the normal heart rhythm. This process of restoring and maintaining a normal heartbeat is called cardioversion. The medications used for rhythm control are called anti-arrhythmics (e.g., dronedarone, flecainide).
  • Medications to prevent blood clots: Blood thinners (anticoagulants [e.g., dabigatran, rivaroxaban, warfarin] or antiplatelets [e.g., acetylsalicylic acid, clopidogrel]) reduce your risk of stroke by preventing blood clots from forming in the heart. Blood clots that dislodge and travel to the brain can block the blood flow to the brain, causing a stroke.
  • Medical procedures and devices: Electrical cardioversion (giving the heart an electrical shock) and catheter ablation (making lesions on the heart using radiofrequency energy) are medical procedures that your doctor may use to restore normal heart rhythm. Surgery may also be required in some cases.

Your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits of each treatment option with you.

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