Atrial fibrillation episodes might occur often or they can last for a long time. Even though A-fib is often not a life-threatening illness, it is a significant medical issue that has to be treated properly to avoid stroke.
Medication, therapy to correct the heart rhythm, and catheter operations to obstruct incorrect cardiac signals are all potential treatments for atrial fibrillation.
A person with atrial fibrillation may also experience atrial flutter, a similar heart rhythm issue. Despite being a distinct arrhythmia, atrial flutter can be treated in a manner that is quite similar to that of atrial fibrillation.
Some sufferers of atrial fibrillation (A-fib) don't have any symptoms. Those who do experience the signs and symptoms of atrial fibrillation may experience:
- Feelings of a rapid, fluttering, or hammering heartbeat (palpitations).
- Chest pain.
- Decreased capacity for exercise.
- Breathing difficulty.
Occasional (paroxysmal atrial fibrillation): Atrial fibrillation can occur infrequently. The typical duration of A-fib symptoms ranges from a few minutes to many hours. Sometimes outbreaks might repeat themselves and symptoms last for up to a week. Sometimes symptoms will go away by themselves. Treatment is necessary for some persons with sporadic A-fib.
Persistent: The heart rhythm does not return to normal on its own when there is this kind of atrial fibrillation. Cardioversion or pharmacological therapy may be used to restore and maintain a normal heart rhythm in those who have A-fib symptoms.
Long-standing persistent: Atrial fibrillation of this kind is ongoing and persistent for more than a year.
Permanent: The abnormal cardiac rhythm in this kind of atrial fibrillation cannot be corrected. Drugs are required to regulate heart rhythm and stop blood clots.
When to visit a doctor?
Schedule a visit with your doctor if you have any atrial fibrillation signs or symptoms.
Go to the hospital right away if you experience chest discomfort. Your heart attack might be the cause of your chest pain.
The length of time you've had atrial fibrillation, your symptoms, and the underlying reason for the cardiac issue will all affect how you're treated. The objectives of therapy include:
- Reset the heartbeat.
- Regulating heart rate.
- Avoid blood clots that might cause strokes.
Treatment options for atrial fibrillation include:
- Resetting the cardiac rhythm with therapy (cardioversion).
- Surgery or catheterization
Your doctor and you will talk about your best course of action together. It's crucial to adhere to your treatment plan for atrial fibrillation. If A-fib isn't properly managed, it can cause heart failure and strokes, among other problems.
You can be given a prescription medicine to slow down and normalize your heartbeat. Additionally, drugs are given to stop blood clots, a risky side effect of A-fib.
The following medications are used to treat atrial fibrillation:
- Beta-blockers: These drugs can lower heart rate both at rest and during exercise.
- Blockers of calcium channels: People who suffer from heart failure or low blood pressure may need to avoid taking these medications, which regulate the heart rate.
- Digoxin: While at rest, this medicine may regulate heart rate, but it may not work as well when exercising. Most patients require extra or alternative drugs, such as beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers.
- Anti-arrhythmic drugs: These medications are used to keep a healthy cardiac rhythm, not merely to regulate heart rate. Antiarrhythmics are typically used less often than medications that regulate heart rate since they have more negative effects.
- Blood thinners: A doctor may suggest a blood-thinning medicine to lower the risk of stroke or other organ damage brought on by blood clots (anticoagulant). Warfarin (Jantoven), apixaban (Eliquis), dabigatran (Pradaxa), edoxaban (Savaysa), and rivaroxaban (Xarelto) are some examples of blood thinners. The effects of warfarin must be monitored with routine blood tests if you take it.
A doctor may use cardioversion to try to restore the sinus rhythm to the heart if the A-fib symptoms is troublesome or if this is the first episode of atrial fibrillation.
There are two methods for cardioversion:
- Electrical cardioversion: By applying electric shocks to the heart through electrodes (paddles or patches) implanted in the chest, the heart rhythm is restored using this technique.
- Medicine cardioversion: Medicines are administered orally or intravenously to restore the heart's rhythm.
Cardioversion is often carried out at a hospital as a routine procedure, although it can also be done in an emergency. To lower the risk of blood clots and strokes, warfarin (Jantoven) or another blood thinner may be administered a few weeks before the procedure if it is scheduled.
Anti-arrhythmic drugs may be taken forever to assist stop further episodes of atrial fibrillation after electrical cardioversion. There is a possibility of experiencing another atrial fibrillation episode even with treatment.
Surgery or catheterization
A doctor may advise cardiac ablation if medication or other treatments are ineffective for treating A-fib. For some individuals, ablation is the initial course of therapy.
In order to block faulty electrical signals and restore a regular heartbeat, cardiac ablation employs heat (radiofrequency radiation) or extremely cold (cryoablation) to leave scars in the heart. A flexible tube (catheter) is inserted into your heart by a doctor through a blood artery, typically in your groin. The use of several catheters is possible. Energy is delivered cold or hot by sensors on the catheter's tip.
A scalpel is occasionally used during open-heart surgery to accomplish ablation.
There are several cardiac ablation techniques. Depending on your exact symptoms, general health, and whether you're having additional heart surgery, the sort of treatment for atrial fibrillation is determined.
For instance, the following cardiac ablation procedures can be used to treat atrial fibrillation:
- Atrioventricular (AV) node ablation: To break the electrical signaling link, heat or cold energy is delivered to the heart tissue at the AV node. A pacemaker is required for life after AV node ablation.
- Maze technique: In order to generate a pattern of scar tissue (the labyrinth) in the upper chambers of the heart, a doctor employs heat, cold, or a knife. The labyrinth disrupts the errant cardiac signals that lead to atrial fibrillation because scar tissue doesn't transmit electrical signals.
The labyrinth pattern requires open-heart surgery if it is made with a scalpel. This process is known as the surgical maze. In individuals who require additional cardiac surgery, such as coronary artery bypass surgery or heart valve replacement, it is the recommended approach to treating atrial fibrillation.
After cardiac ablation, atrial fibrillation may come back. Another cardiac ablation or another type of heart therapy can be suggested if this occurs. Lifelong blood thinners may be required to avoid strokes following cardiac ablation.
A doctor may advise a catheter surgery to seal a tiny sac (appendage) in the left upper heart chamber, where the majority of A-fib-related clots develop if a patient with A-fib is unable to take blood-thinning drugs. Left atrial appendage closure is the name of this operation. A catheter is used to carefully insert a closure device into the sac. The catheter is taken out once the gadget has been installed. The gadget is left in place indefinitely. For certain patients who have already had cardiac surgery, closing the left atrial appendage by surgery is a possibility.
Lifestyle changes and home remedies
Maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle can assist in the prevention or treatment of diseases including high blood pressure and heart disease. Changing one's way of life frequently entails eating heart-healthy meals. Consume a balanced diet high in fresh produce, and whole grains, and low in salt and solid fats.
Doing regular exercise: Increase your everyday physical exercise.
Giving up smoking: If you smoke and are unable to stop on your own, speak with your doctor about methods or programs that might assist you in quitting.
Staying within a healthy weight range: Being overweight makes you more likely to have heart disease. Losing weight in a healthy way can assist to control atrial fibrillation symptoms and may enhance the effectiveness of catheter ablation.
Maintaining healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels: Make lifestyle modifications and use medicines as directed to treat high cholesterol or high blood pressure (hypertension).
Alcohol restriction: Atrial fibrillation risk can be raised by binge drinking, which is defined as five drinks for males and four for women in a period of two hours. Even little quantities of alcohol can cause atrial fibrillation in certain persons.
Be mindful of your stress levels: Because stress might lead to heart rhythm issues.
Getting follow-up care: Take your meds as directed and visit your doctor for follow-up visits frequently. If your symptoms get worse, let your doctor know.