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Atrial Fibrillation - Medications

If you have atrial fibrillation, you will likely take a medicine to help prevent a stroke. You may also take a medicine that controls your heart rate or your heart rhythm.

Medicine to prevent a stroke

Anticoagulants

Anticoagulant medicines, also called blood thinners, are recommended for most people with atrial fibrillation who are at average to high risk of stroke.

Anticoagulant choices include:

If you are age 55 or older and have atrial fibrillation, you can find your risk of having a stroke in the next 5 years using this Interactive Tool: What Is Your Risk for a Stroke if You Have Atrial Fibrillation? calculator.gif

For help deciding about an anticoagulant, see:

dplink.gif Atrial Fibrillation: Should I Take an Anticoagulant to Prevent Stroke?
Atrial Fibrillation: Which Anticoagulant Should I Take to Prevent Stroke?

Aspirin and other antiplatelet medicines

If you are at low risk of stroke or cannot take anticoagulants, your doctor may recommend that you take aspirin. It doesn't work as well as anticoagulant medicines in preventing clots, but it doesn't have as many side effects.

Your doctor may have you take other antiplatelet medicines, such as clopidogrel (Plavix), along with aspirin or instead of aspirin. When aspirin and clopidogrel are used together, they may reduce the risk for stroke more than aspirin alone. This combination of clopidogrel and aspirin doesn't work as well as an anticoagulant to prevent clots. Also, this combination is more likely to cause bleeding than aspirin alone.

Medicine to control your heart rate

Rate-control medicines are used if your heart rate is too fast. The medicine slows your heart rate. Your heart rate may not need to be very low. A heart rate of 110 beats per minute may be enough to help you.1

These medicines include:

Rate-control medicines may relieve symptoms caused by the fast heart rate. But these medicines may not relieve other symptoms caused by atrial fibrillation.

Medicine to control your heart rhythm

Rhythm-control medicines (also known as antiarrhythmics) help return the heart to its normal rhythm and keep atrial fibrillation from returning. They may help relieve symptoms caused by an irregular heart rate.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 05, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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