Treatments Available for Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation can be triggered by an underlying medical condition, like a thyroid disorder, or some other event in certain cases. If doctors are able to treat the underlying condition, then they may be able to permanently treat your heart rhythm problems. If the symptoms of atrial fibrillation become problematic, than your doctor could try to reset your heart rhythm.
(If you have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, then you might be interested in enrolling for our atrial fibrillation clinical trial in DeLand, FL.)
In the end, the best atrial fibrillation treatment will depend on how long the patient has been living with their condition, how severe are their symptoms, and the underlying cause of their atrial fibrillation. In general, the main goals of atrial fibrillation treatment are:
- Prevent blood clots
- Reset heart rhythm and regulate heart rate
The appropriate treatment strategy for atrial fibrillation will depend on a few different factors, including co-existent heart problems and any medications that are being taken to regulate the patient’s heart rhythm. In some cases, a more aggressive form of treatment, like surgery, may be required to treat this medical condition.
If you have had your heart rate reset via electrical cardioversion, then your doctor will probably prescribe some anti-arrhythmic medications in order to prevent future episodes of atrial fibrillation. The following are the most common types of anti-arrhythmic medications available:
- Dronedarone (Multaq)
- Sotalol (Betapace)
- Amiodarone (Cordarone, Pacerone)
- Propafenone (Rythmol)
- Dofetilide (Tikosyn)
- Flecainide (Tambocor)
Even though this form of medication has proven effective at regulating the heart-rhythm of patients with atrial fibrillation, they can also cause certain adverse side effects, including:
Under certain circumstances, there have been times where anti-arrhythmic medications could cause a deadly heart-rhythm disturbance called ventricular arrhythmias. This disturbance originates within the lower chambers of the patient’s heart. Others may need to stay on this type of medication indefinitely. Unfortunately, the risk of experiencing another episode of atrial fibrillation remains high even with the help of anti-arrhythmic medication.
Surgical Procedures Used for Atrial Fibrillation
In more severe cases, cardioversion and medication will not be enough to manage the symptoms of atrial fibrillation. In these instances, doctors may have to go the surgical route in order to treat their patient. During surgery, the part of the heart that serves as the source of the erratic electrical signals will be destroyed, allowing for the heart to regulate itself. Surgical procedures used for a-fib patients include:
- Surgical Maze Procedure: This procedure is executed during an open-heart surgery, which means that there is a significant level of risk present. Surgeons make several small but precise cuts in the upper chambers of the patient’s heart, creating an area of scar tissue. Electrical signals are not able to pass through this scar tissue, so it blocks those impulses from causing atrial fibrillation. While this procedure has a high rate of success, it is not recommended unless other measures taken to treat this medical condition have all failed. Surgeons may also choose to install a pacemaker following this procedure for some patients.
- Radiofrequency Catheter Ablation: If you have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, but your heart is otherwise healthy, then your condition could be the result of rapidly discharging triggers (these are known as “hot spots”). One can think of these hot spots as abnormal pacemaker cells which fire too rapidly. Radiofrequency energy is applied to these hot spots via a catheter that is inserted in an artery near the groin and feed into the heart. The hot spots are destroyed and scar tissue takes its place. This can correct the arrhythmia without having to use medications or artificial pacemakers.
In order to treat an irregular heartbeat or prevent future blood clots, you may need to take a combination of medications designed to treat atrial fibrillation. However, there are others who experience minor afib episodes that clear up on their own, so medical treatment is not always necessary.