When you have atrial fibrillation, the goal is to get your heart back into rhythm and prevent blood clots that can lead to a stroke. For many people with AFib, medicine is the best treatment option.
Learn which medicines your doctor could prescribe to treat your AFib. You’ll get the most benefit from these medications if you take them just as your doctor and pharmacist tell you.
How Medicines Help
When you have AFib, abnormal electrical signals make your heart quiver or flutter. It can also beats too fast, which is called palpitations.
The condition prevents blood from flowing normally from your heart’s upper chambers (called the atria) to the lower ones (the ventricles). Blood can pool in the atria and form clumps called clots. If one travels to your brain, it could cause a stroke.
These medicines do a few different things. They can:
- Slow your heart rate. Some medications reduce the number of times your ventricles contract each minute. This slowed rhythm gives them enough time to fill with blood before pumping it out to your body.
- Control your heart rhythm. Other medicines help your atria and ventricles work together to pump blood better.
- Prevent blood clots. These types of medications lower your chances of having a stroke.
Medicines That Slow Your Heart Rate
One group of AFib medications alters the electrical signals in your heart to slow your heart rate. These medicines don’t fix the abnormal heart rhythm, but they can help you feel better.
Beta-blockers are a type of blood pressure medicine. Some of them include:
Side effects of beta-blockers can include:
Calcium channel blockers are another type of blood pressure medicine. They relax blood vessels in your heart and slow your heart rate. Examples are:
Some of the possible side effects of calcium channel blockers:
Digoxin (Digox, Lanoxin) works on your heart’s electrical system to slow your heart rate. Side effects include:
Medicines That Control Your Heart Rhythm
These medications control your heart rhythm by slowing the electrical signals through your heart. This type of treatment is called “cardioversionwith drugs.”
Your doctor might recommend one of these medicines if rate control drugs alone haven’t helped you. Heart rhythm medications work best if you just recently started having AFib. Options include:
Side effects from these medications can range from blurred vision and dry mouth to a slowed heart rhythm.
You can get heart rhythm medicines in a hospital or at your doctor’s office. Your doctor will watch your heart rhythm during treatment to see how well the medicine is working.
You might need to take a blood-thinning medicine for a few weeks before you start on one of these drugs to prevent a clot.
Medicines to Prevent Clots and Stroke
Blood thinning medicines help prevent blood clots. They can lower your chances of a stroke by 50% to 70%.
Some examples of these drugs include:
All of these medicines can raise your chances of bleeding. Be very careful when you play sports or do activities that could cause you to injure yourself and bleed.
Call your doctor right away if you have any unusual bleeding or bruising. While you are on these medicines, you will need to see your doctor for regular tests to make sure they are working.
Medicines are one option for treating AFib. If they don’t work or you can’t live with the side effects, you do have other choices, including surgery. Discuss all of your options with your doctor.