What Is AFib? Here’s Everything You Need to Know


Treatment and Management of AFib

It’s important to seek treatment for AFib to reduce your risk of stroke and congestive heart failure, but also because the presence of AFib can indicate previously undiagnosed signs of other forms of heart disease.

Your specific type of AFib, along with any other medical conditions you have, will determine the treatment plan your physician develops for you. Working with your healthcare team as an active partner will help you establish realistic goals and aid your providers in developing a protocol that best suits your situation.

The treatment plan for AFib focuses on three areas which are:

  • Medications
  • Nonsurgical interventions
  • Surgical procedures

Medications

Medications are the first line of action for treating AFib. The goals for medication use are to manage both the heart rate and rhythm efficiently.

There are four separate groups of drugs currently recommended for controlling AFib, which are:

  • Antiarrhythmics
  • Beta-blockers
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Digitalis

Antiarrhythmics

Antiarrhythmics help to convert AFib back into a regular rhythm so that the heart can resume healthy functioning. There are two distinct kinds of antiarrhythmics: sodium channel blockers and potassium channel blockers.

Some examples of frequently used antiarrhythmic drugs are Cordarone, Miltaq, Rythmol, Quinalan, Tambacor, and Tikosyn.

Beta-Blockers

Beta-blockers are like the restrictor plate on a racecar and keep the heart from pumping too fast.

Beta-blockers currently used for AFib include Lopressor, Tenormin, Toprol XL, Coreg, Betapace, Bystolic, Corgard, and Zebeta.

Calcium Channel Blockers

Calcium channel blockers limit the flow of calcium into heart muscle cells, which helps regulate heart rate by controlling pumping force.

The calcium channel blockers often prescribed for AFib are Cardizem CD, Norvasc, Procardia XL, Lotrel, Calan SR, Dilacor XR, and Verelan.

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Digitalis

Digitalis is a drug that limits the speed of electrical impulse conduction between the atria and ventricles, which helps control heart rate and pumping strength. Digitalis is less effective than other drugs when you are exercising or experiencing emotional stress.

Digitek and Lanoxin are the two varieties of digitalis currently prescribed.

Nonsurgical Interventions

Nonsurgical interventions are the second line of treatment for managing AFib. These procedures occur in a clinic or hospital setting and help to reset the heart back into a regular rate and rhythm.

Electrical Cardioversion

Electrical cardioversion delivers a shock of electricity to the heart muscle to zap it back into a routine The patient receives a sedative to help them fall asleep.

Once asleep, a physician or other trained clinician places both paddles of a cardiac defibrillator on designated locations on the chest and delivers a rapid burst of electricity. The procedure is like cardiac defibrillation for ventricular tachycardia or ventricular ablation, except it uses a lower dose of energy.

Radiofrequency or Cardiac Ablation

Radiofrequency or cardiac ablation is a viable alternative if you have ongoing AFib that resists correction with medications or electrical cardioversion. Once you receive a sedative and are asleep, the physician threads a small thin wire called a catheter into a designated location in your neck, forearm, or groin that is then passed up to the heart.

The catheter will send electrical impulses to your heart that record electrical activity and help identify the areas of tissue causing the arrhythmia. Once discovered, the physician will send small doses of energy through the tip of the catheter to these areas that will scar or destroy the heart tissue, which will prevent it from causing further bouts of AFib.

Surgical Procedures

Two surgical options are commonly used to treat AFib when medications and nonsurgical interventions are unsuccessful.

  • Pacemakers are electronic devices that are slightly larger than a silver dollar and have small wires that the surgeon places in specific areas of the heart to provide electrical stimulation to help it maintain appropriate speed and rhythm. The surgery takes place in the hospital, with a physician placing the pacemaker inside of an incision made in the skin on the upper left side of the chest.
  • A Maze procedure is a more complicated open-heart option that a cardiac surgeon performs in a hospital operating room. The surgeon makes small incisions in the upper region of the heart that form scar tissue when they heal, which block blocks the conduction of electrical impulses causing the AF and restores a regular heart rate and rhythm.

Prognosis for People with AFib

AFib prognosis is dependent on several factors, such as the type you have and any other medical conditions that are contributing to the disease. According to the American Heart Association, timely and successful AFib treatment can limit the amount you experience.

Although individuals can’t die from an AFib episode, strokes due to AFib can result in death. If you have AFib, you also have a higher probability of developing congestive heart failure or other heart-related ailments.

It is critical for you to work with your healthcare team, especially your physician, to closely monitor your AFib and make positive changes such as lifestyle modifications. Doing as much as possible on your part will help prevent other problems that could arise from having AFib.

Make sure that you read the latest information about AFib management. Have a list of questions for you to ask when you see your physician or another healthcare provider, so you can find out about the latest developments in AFib care that can work well for you.

Many people worldwide can live long, healthy, active, and productive lives with AFib. Understanding your AFib risk factors, learning about AFib triggers, and making consistent healthy lifestyle choices will help you to live as well as possible with your AFib.

Resources

circ.ahajournals.org (Worldwide Epidemiology of Atrial Fibrillation)

Emedicine Health (AFib (Atrial Fibrillation) Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments)

Medicine Net (Atrial Flutter vs. Atrial Fibrillation (Afib): 11 Common Symptoms)

Healthline (Types of Atrial Fibrillation: Symptoms, Treatment, and More)

heart.org (About Arrhythmia – American Heart Association)

theheart.org (Atrial Fibrillation)

heart.org (FAQ’s of Atrial Fibrillation – American Heart Association)

heart.org (Treatment Options of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF))

heart.org (What is Atrial Fibrillation – American Heart Association)

hrsonline.org (Atrial Fibrillation (Afib) – Heart Rhythm Society)

Mayo Clinic (Atrial fibrillation – Symptoms and Causes)

medicinenet (Atrial Fibrillation (AF) Symptoms, Causes, Risks and Medications)

medicinenet.com (Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) Symptoms and Warning Signs)

NCBI-NIH (ABC’s of clinical electrocardiography)

WebMD (Atrial Fibrillation: Causes, Risks, and Triggers)

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by Patricia Bratianu on September 15, 2015
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