An arrhythmia is a condition in which the
heart beats too quickly, too slowly, or irregularly. In many cases, the
arrhythmia may not be serious or require any treatment at all. However, if your
doctor finds that the arrhythmia could lead to more serious heart problems,
they may prescribe medication.
Several types of medication can help control
or resolve an arrhythmia. The type that’s right for you depends on the kind of
arrhythmia you have. Here’s what to know about drugs that treat arrhythmia.
Antiarrhythmic drugs may be prescribed for people
with tachycardia (fast heart rate) or premature or extra heartbeats. These
medications work to correct the rhythm of the heart. They restore a normal
heart rhythm by changing the electrical current that makes your heart beat.
Antiarrhythmic drugs come in pill form and
are typically used long-term. In emergencies, they can be given intravenously. The
most common medications in this class are:
- amiodarone (Cordarone, Pacerone)
- flecainide (Tambocor)
- ibutilide (Corvert), which can only be given through IV
- lidocaine (Xylocaine), which can only be given through IV
- procainamide (Procan, Procanbid)
- propafenone (Rythmol)
- quinidine (many brand names)
- tocainide (Tonocarid)
While these medications can help correct an
arrhythmia, there is also a risk that they can cause the arrhythmia to happen again
or more often. This is called a proarrhythmia. If you develop a proarrhythmia
while taking an antiarrhythmic drug, call your doctor right away.
Calcium channel blockers
If you have angina (chest pain), high or low blood pressure, and an arrhythmia, your
doctor may prescribe a calcium channel blocker. These drugs dilate your blood
vessels. This allows more blood to flow to the heart, which helps ease chest
pain and decrease blood pressure.
These drugs can also slow your heart rate. A
reduced heart rate and lowered blood pressure reduce the strain on your heart
and reduce your risk of an arrhythmia.
Most calcium channel blockers come in pill
form, but some are also available in intravenous (IV) form. Calcium channel
blockers are for long-term use.
Examples of common calcium channel blockers include:
The side effects of these medications vary.
Some people have tachycardia, dizziness, constipation, and headaches. Other,
more serious side effects include rash or swelling in the legs and feet.
If you’ve been diagnosed with tachycardia, your
doctor may prescribe a beta blocker. Beta blockers stop the action of the
hormone adrenaline. This can relieve your tachycardia by slowing your heart
rate. It can also lower your blood pressure and decrease the stress on your heart.
Examples of beta blockers include:
The side effects of beta blockers include
tiredness, cold hands, and headache. Sometimes these medications affect your
digestive system as well. Some people report stomach issues, constipation, or
An anticoagulant is a blood-thinning
medication. Your doctor may prescribe an anticoagulant if your arrhythmia puts
you at risk of clots or stroke caused by a clot. For some people, an abnormal heart rhythm
changes how the blood flows through their system. For instance, atrial fibrillation may cause
blood to pool in the heart, which may result in blood clots.
Anticoagulants don’t fix a heart rhythm
problem. They only help reduce the risk of blood clots caused by certain
Warfarin (Coumadin) is one of the most
common anticoagulants. It’s effective, but it also makes your body less able to
stop bleeding. For this reason, you should watch for any signs of internal
bleeding, such as bloody stool, multiple bruises, and vomit that looks like
Your doctor may prescribe aspirin instead of warfarin if they find
that you have a lower risk of a blood clot. Aspirin is not as powerful of a
blood thinner as warfarin is. However, it has a lower risk of causing bleeding.
Talk with your doctor
Your heart is a very important organ. To stay
safe while taking your medications, try these tips:
- Work with your doctor to
understand the medications they prescribed for you.
- Take your drugs only as directed.
- Tell your doctor about all other
medical conditions you have and medications you take.
- Call your doctor right away if
you notice anything abnormal or if you have serious side effects.