atrial fibrillation comes on suddenly, lasts a short
time, and goes away on its own, it is called
paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. Typically, over
time, episodes of
paroxysmal atrial fibrillation come on more often and last longer.
Over time, episodes of
atrial fibrillation typically last longer and often do
not go away on their own. This is called persistent atrial fibrillation. When
you have had atrial fibrillation for a long time, it is more difficult to
return your heart to a normal rhythm (also called a
normal sinus rhythm). When cardioversion is not an
option or does not work, medicines are usually given to control the heart rate
and prevent stroke.
Prevent a stroke
Having atrial fibrillation can raise your risk of
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. Anticoagulants, also called blood thinners, can prevent blood clots that
can lead to a
stroke. You may be at average to high risk of stroke if you are
older than 75 or have a history of heart disease,
high blood pressure,
diabetes, or stroke.
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?
If you are at low risk of having
a stroke or you cannot take an anticoagulant, you may choose to take
Talk to your doctor about whether you should
take warfarin. For help deciding whether to take
Atrial Fibrillation: Should I Take Warfarin to Prevent Stroke?
If you take an anticoagulant, you need to take extra steps to avoid bleeding problems, such as preventing falls and injuries. If you take warfarin, you also get regular blood tests and watch how much vitamin K you eat or drink. For more information about safety with warfarin, see:
Warfarin: Taking Your Medicine Safely.
Control your heart rate or rhythm
You may also need to take
rate-control medicines or rhythm-control medicines (antiarrhythmics). Both of these types of medicines are effective
treatments for atrial fibrillation. Your doctor will likely talk with you about
which of these treatments might be best for you.
Rate-control medicines are used if your heart rate is too fast. These medicines
calcium channel blockers, and/or
digoxin. 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. You might not have symptoms from an irregular heart rhythm if your heart rate is lower than 110 beats per minute. Rate-control medicines may relieve symptoms caused by the fast heart rate. But these medicines may not be an option
if you have severe symptoms with atrial fibrillation.