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Atrial Fibrillation - Treatment Overview

It's hard to say exactly what your treatment for atrial fibrillation will be, because it depends so much on your symptoms and your risk for other health problems.

Treatments are aimed at helping you feel better and preventing future problems, especially stroke and heart failure. There are three main types of treatment:

  • Treatment to slow your heart rate.
  • Treatment to control your heart rhythm.
  • Treatment to prevent stroke.

Treatment to slow your heart rate

Rate-control medicines are used if your heart rate is too fast.

They usually do not return your heart to a normal rhythm—in other words, your heartbeat will still be irregular. But these medicines can keep your heart from beating at a dangerously fast rate. These medicines may also relieve symptoms.

Treatment to control your heart rhythm

Treatment to control your heart rhythm is done to try to stop atrial fibrillation and keep it from returning. It may also help your symptoms. Treatments include:

  • Rhythm-control medicines, also called antiarrhythmics.
  • Electrical cardioversion. This procedure uses a low-voltage electrical shock to return the heart to a normal rhythm.
    Atrial Fibrillation: Should I Try Electrical Cardioversion?
  • Catheter ablation. This might be done if your medicine hasn't brought back a normal heartbeat, or it's too hard to live with the side effects of medicine.
    Atrial Fibrillation: Should I Have Catheter Ablation?
  • Maze procedure. This is usually done during open-heart surgery. It creates scar tissue that blocks excess electrical impulses from traveling through your heart.

Treatment to prevent stroke

Atrial fibrillation is dangerous because if the heartbeat isn't strong and steady, blood can collect, or pool, in the atria camera.gif. And pooled blood is more likely to form clots. Clots can travel through the bloodstream to the brain and other areas such as the legs. If clots travel to the brain, they can block blood flow and cause a stroke.

If you are at an average-to-high risk of having a stroke, your doctor may prescribe long-term use of an anticoagulant medicine, such as warfarin, to lower this risk.

If you are at low risk of having a stroke or you cannot take an anticoagulant, you may choose to take daily aspirin.

For more information, see Medications.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
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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