September 2, 2014
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Atrial Fibrillation

 Health Home >> Atrial Fibrillation >> How is atrial fibrillation treated? 


Medical procedures and devices

To manage atrial fibrillation (also known as AF or AFib), your doctor may recommend treatment that involves medical procedures or devices. These can be used in addition to or instead of medications that control heart rate or rhythm. You may still need medications to prevent blood clots to reduce the risk of stroke.

Electrical cardioversion is the process of "shocking" the heart back into its normal rhythm. This procedure involves a machine called a defibrillator that is used to deliver a brief electrical shock between two electrical pads paced on the chest and back. The goal is to achieve rhythm control, and electrical cardioversion restores the irregular heartbeat of AF to the normal heart rhythm.

Catheter ablation can restore an irregular heartbeat to a normal heart rhythm. During ablation, thin wires (catheters) are inserted through a vein in the leg, neck, or arm to reach the atria (the upper chambers of the heart). A form of energy (usually radiofrequency) is then sent through catheters to destroy the heart tissue that is causing the abnormal electrical signals. These lesions are meant to isolate and stop the electrical signals that cause atrial fibrillation.

Catheter ablation is sometimes used to destroy the bundle of cells between the upper chambers (atria) and lower chambers (ventricles) of the heart, the atrioventricular (AV) node. Electrical signals from the atria pass through the AV node before reaching the ventricles. After this type of procedure, your doctor surgically implants a small device called a pacemaker that sends electrical pulses to the heart to maintain a normal heart rhythm.

Surgery may be needed for some people with AF. This procedure also uses ablation to destroy tissue that is causing the abnormal electrical signals. However, the surgeons do not use catheters; they see the surface of the heart directly. In many cases, surgeons will perform this procedure to treat AF when a person also requires heart surgery for another condition (e.g., valve disease).


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