What are the treatments for the disease?
Treatment of atrial fibrillation depends on many factors. These include duration, underlying causes, and the severity of the person's symptoms. In many cases, atrial fibrillation returns to a normal rhythm within 24 hours without treatment.
The two main goals of treatment are to control the heart rate and to prevent blood clot problems.
One treatment for atrial fibrillation is called cardioversion. The healthcare provider uses paddles to deliver an electrical shock to the person's chest. The shock is synchronized with the person's electrical heart activity. Cardioversion can restore the normal heart rhythm. This is typically a planned procedure. Sedation is used for the procedure, but the person will usually be awake.
Medications such as ibutilide and adenosine given may be given to convert the heart rhythm back to normal. If the normal heart rhythm cannot be restored, other medications can be used to control the more dangerous rhythms. These medications include the following:
beta-blockers, such as metoprolol or atenolol
calcium channel blockers, such as verapamil or diltiazem
Anticoagulants, or blood thinners, may be prescribed to prevent blood clots. If the person is unresponsive to medications, a pacemaker may be inserted.
If medications are not effective for an individuals' atrial fibrillation, another procedure may be tried. Radiofrequency ablation is used to destroy the small portion of the atria that is causing the abnormal rhythmn. This procedure involves guiding a catheter, or narrow tube, to the problem area. Radiofrequency waves, similar to microwaves, are used to destroy the problem tissue. A permanent pacemaker is then inserted to maintain a normal heart rhythmn.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Beta-blockers can worsen
asthma. Calcium channel blockers can cause swelling of the legs, as well as a higher risk of heart attack and congestive heart failure. Anticoagulants can cause excess bleeding.
How is the disease monitored?
A person with atrial fibrillation will have regular visits with the healthcare provider. The provider may order regular ECGs and blood tests to monitor treatment. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.