Atrial Fibrillation - Treatment Overview
atrial fibrillation is important for several reasons.
An irregular, rapidly beating heart can weaken the heart muscle and cause it to
dilate or stretch out. This can increase your risk of having
heart failure or having
chest pain or even a
heart attack. Also, atrial fibrillation can greatly
increase your risk of having a
stroke. Atrial fibrillation can also cause symptoms
that are hard to deal with.
Many people are able to live full and
active lives while being treated for atrial fibrillation. To stay healthy, you
will probably need to take medicines, including an anticoagulant or aspirin,
a medicine to slow heart rate, or possibly a rhythm-control medicine.
atrial fibrillation is causing your heart to pump
dangerously fast or your blood pressure to drop dramatically, you will probably
be taken to the hospital for treatment to restore your blood pressure and heart
rate to normal. If atrial fibrillation is not causing severe symptoms, you may
be treated on an outpatient basis. Treatment for people who have just started
having episodes of atrial fibrillation usually includes trying to convert the
heart to a normal rhythm. Sometimes anticoagulant medicines are used to prevent
clots and stroke.
- If you have had atrial fibrillation for less than 48 hours, your doctor may perform a procedure
called cardioversion, using either medicine or a low-voltage electrical shock
(electrical cardioversion), to return the irregular
heartbeat to a normal rhythm (normal sinus rhythm).
atrial fibrillation has lasted for more than 48 hours,
attempting cardioversion could cause a stroke. In this case, you may need to
anticoagulant medicine, such as warfarin, for
several weeks before your doctor tries cardioversion. Taking anticoagulants
reduces the chance that a clot might travel from the heart to the brain after
- If you are not sure how long
you have had atrial fibrillation, you are also at risk of having a clot in your
heart. If you are not having severe symptoms, such as fainting, your doctor
will probably also recommend that you take anticoagulants for several weeks
before cardioversion to prevent a stroke.
- If you have
severe symptoms and you are not sure how long you have
had atrial fibrillation, your doctor may try to restore your heart to a normal
rhythm immediately. In this case, your doctor will use a
transesophageal echocardiogram to determine whether
you have a clot in your heart that could cause a stroke. The results of this
test will determine what your doctor does next:
- If the heart is clear of clots,
cardioversion can be attempted. Anticoagulants are used after to prevent
- If there is a clot in the heart, your doctor will
prescribe anticoagulants before trying cardioversion.
Cardioversion usually works to restore a normal sinus
rhythm. But in many cases the heart rhythm goes back to atrial
Atrial Fibrillation: Should I Try Electrical Cardioversion?