Get Your Groove Back: Treating AFIB By Resetting The Heart's Rate and Rhythm

Treatment for AFib is important because it can prevent the conditions that lead to stroke or heart failure. And if AFib is caused by an underlying event, your doctor can treat it and see if that controls AFib. Effective management of the condition depends on the heart’s condition, age, stroke risk, and the severity of AFib symptoms. The overall treatment goals are to reset the rhythm, control the rate, and prevent blood clots.

Restoring Your Heart Rate

Cardioversion restores your heart rate and rhythm. There are two ways to do it:

  • Medications – An anti-arrhythmic medication can restore your heart’s normal rhythm. The medication may be given intravenously or taken orally.
  • Electrical cardioversion – Occurring while you are sedated, this procedure sends an electrical charge to your heart through paddles or patches placed on your chest. The charge stops your heart’s activity for a moment, allowing it to reset to its normal rhythm.

After cardioversion, an anti-arrhythmic medication may be prescribed to prevent reoccurrences of AFib. Common medications are amiodarone, dronedarone, propafenone, sotalol, dofetilide, and flecainide. Some may produce side effects such as nausea, dizziness, and fatigue.

Controlling Heart Rate

If cardioversion doesn’t create a normal rhythm, the heart rate is controlled in two other ways:

  • Medications – Calcium-channel blockers, beta-blockers, and digitalis can be used to slow heart rate to less than 80 beats per minute at rest. Other types of drugs called ACE inhibitors may be prescribed to control blood pressure and reduce the risk of complications.
  • Atrioventricular (AV) node ablation – This procedure is an option if medications don’t work or produce difficult side effects. Radiofrequency energy is applied to the AV node through a catheter to destroy this small area of tissue. A pacemaker is then implanted to send electrical impulses to the ventricles.

Preventing Blood Clots

Blood clots are dangerous because they can lead to more serious conditions, such as stroke. Because the risk for blood clots is so high in people with AFib or who are undergoing procedures to treat AFib, doctors often prescribe anticoagulant (blood-thinning) medications.

What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

At rare times, the heart can go into cardiac arrest without warning. This is called sudden cardiac arrest, an extremely dangerous condition leaving patients just minutes to receive emergency medical care. If you see a person suddenly lose consciousness and register no pulse, get immediate medical help. If the person is unresponsive, rescuers can administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation using an automated external defibrillator (AED), if available, to restore blood flow.

Be Involved: Questions for Your Health Care Team About Heart Disease and Heart Events
  • What caused my heart problem?
  • How serious is it?
  • What medications or therapies will I need? Do they have side effects?
  • How will my daily life change as a result of my heart problem?