Managing Atrial Fibrillation Is a Long-Term Problem with Many Solutions
People with atrial fibrillation must deal with the problems of too fast or too slow heart rhythm, which can be disturbing and debilitating. The key to living with atrial fibrillation is good management of the electrical disturbance that is at the heart of this disorder. A number of atrial fibrillation treatments are available for the long-term management of atrial fibrillation patients.
A number of medications can be used to manage atrial fibrillation problems. Blood thinners such as warfarin, heparin or dabigatran are prescribed to prevent blood clots that can break off and travel to the brain, which can cause a stroke. The level of these anticoagulation medications in the bloodstream requires constant monitoring with blood tests to ensure that the dosage is appropriate.
Medications for Rate and Rhythm
Medications may also be used for rate control of the heartbeat to allow a sufficient amount of blood to pass through the heart chambers. Beta blockers such as atenolol or metoprolol are used for this purpose. Calcium channel blockers such as verapamil or diltiazem can also be used for this purpose. Maintaining the normal beating of your heart is also important prevent damage. A number of drugs are used for this purpose, including sotalol, flecainide, amiodarone, ibutilide or dofetilide.
When medications are ineffective in regulating the heart rate effectively, a number of procedures are available. Cardioversion uses low-energy shocks to the heart to induce a normal heartbeat. This procedure is different than defibrillation, which uses a high-energy shock and is done in emergency situations to restore heart rhythm. In cardioversion, the patient is given a general anesthetic and electrical pads attached to the chest in the area around the heart. When the patient is unconscious, the physician will use special equipment to send a low-energy charge to the heart to stabilize it. After the procedure, the patient will rest for a few hours and then be allowed to go home. The patient may then have to continue anticoagulant medications and heart rate controlling medications to maintain the normal heartbeat.
Another procedure used to stabilize heart rate in patients with atrial fibrillation is cardiac ablation. When medical professionals "ablate" tissue, they destroy it. In this procedure, they destroy abnormal tissue that interferes with normal heartbeat regulation. The patient is sedated and mild electrodes are placed into the heart through a thin catheter. These electrodes measure heart rate and can also be used to remove tissue that is preventing proper heart function. The physician then determines where the problems are in the heart and uses the electrodes to remove abnormal tissue. The procedure can last as long as four hours and requires a period of rest and monitoring afterward. The patient may require an overnight stay in the hospital. Most patients are prescribed medications after the procedure to maintain normal heart function. Cardiac ablation can produce good long-term management of atrial fibrillation for affected patients.