If your doctor thinks your arrhythmia
is clinically significant, he or she will prescribe a treatment plan. The goal
of treatment is to reduce your symptoms and decrease the risk of the condition becoming
worse or more dangerous.
Many arrhythmias are considered
harmless and do not require treatment. If you do need treatment, the least
invasive treatment that also corrects the condition is preferred. Here are a
few possible treatments to control arrhythmias:
Various factors, such
as diet, exercise, lifestyle habits, and pre-existing medical conditions, can contribute
to a person developing arrhythmia. The following lifestyle changes might
improve your condition:
your consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and other drugs, including many
over-the-counter cold remedies
to your doctor about changing the medications you take
any excess weight
plenty of sleep
a balanced diet
your diabetes and blood pressure under control
hydrated and keep your electrolytes in balance
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your
doctor may prescribe one of the following medications for your arrhythmia:
drugs can treat both symptomatic tachycardia (rapid heartbeat) and premature
heartbeats. They suppress abnormal electrical impulses or slow down the
transmission of these impulses.
These meds can be
delivered intravenously or taken orally. In many cases, they are needed daily
and indefinitely, especially for long-term care and treatment of the condition.
prescribed antiarrhythmic drugs include:
A potential side
effect of this class of medication is proarrhythmia: the development of new arrhythmias or recurrence of
preexisting arrhythmias. Certain types of antiarrhythmic drugs are more likely
to induce other arrhythmias, but all of them have this proarrhythmic potential.
These new arrhythmias can make treatment more difficult. In some cases, the new
arrhythmias may be worse than the one you’re trying to treat with the medicine.
blockers, or “calcium antagonists,” help slow a rapid heart rate. Calcium
channel blockers are also prescribed for the treatment of high blood pressure
and angina (chest pain).
channel blockers commonly prescribed for arrhythmia include:
(Cardizem, Cartia, Dilacor, Diltia, Tiazac)
(Calan, Covera, Isoptin, Verelan)
blockers prescribed for high blood pressure include:
Beta blockers slow
the heart rate and cardiac output of patients with atrial fibrillation. These
medicines also lower blood pressure by reducing the effects of adrenaline on
prescribed beta blockers include:
blood thinners make it more difficult for blood to clot (coagulate). They do
not dissolve existing blood clots. They can prevent new clots from forming, and
existing clots from becoming larger. This is important because blood clots can
break loose and travel through the body to the brain, where they can block
blood flow. This may cause a stroke, which might leave portions of the brain
damaged or destroyed.
People with atrial
fibrillation are often prescribed anticoagulants or blood thinners because they
have an elevated risk of developing clots. When the atria quiver chaotically,
blood can pool in the atria instead of flowing into the ventricles. Blood that
sits can form clots.
prescribed anticoagulants and blood thinners include:
Medication to Treat Related Conditions
If you have high blood pressure,
coronary artery disease, heart failure, or any condition that puts you at
greater risk for arrhythmia, your doctor may prescribe a medicine to treat this
Some episodes of arrhythmia can be stopped by certain
actions called vagal maneuvers. These include holding your breath, straining,
coughing, or putting your face in ice water. These maneuvers affect the vagus
nerve and can cause your heart rate to slow.
If your arrhythmia begins in the
upper half of your heart (the atria) and includes fibrillating (quivering), your
doctor may use cardioversion. This is an electric shock treatment that resets your
heart’s rhythm. This treatment is noninvasive and relatively painless. You may
be given a sedative to help you relax.
A thin, flexible tube (called a
catheter) is directed into your heart through your arm, groin, or neck with the
help of a special X-ray. Once there, the catheter delivers a burst of energy
that destroys very small areas of tissue and muscle where your doctor believes
your arrhythmia begins. This creates a block in the pathway that is causing the
Pacemakers regulate bradycardias
(slow heart rates). These battery-powered devices are placed under the skin of
the chest or abdomen. Some pacemakers work continuously to ensure your heart
beats at a normal rate. Others monitor your heart rate and turn on only if your
heart rate slows too much.
Implanted Cardioverter Defibrillators (ICDs)
These devices are highly effective at
stopping life-threatening arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation with rapid
heart rate, ventricular tachycardia, or ventricular fibrillation. ICDs
continuously monitor your heart rate. If it dips too low, the ICD acts as a
pacemaker to restore a normal, healthy rhythm. If your heart rate goes too
fast, it sends out shocks of energy to reset the natural rhythm.
Surgery can treat underlying causes
of arrhythmia, such as coronary artery disease and some types of heart failure.
If a doctor is performing a surgery for one of these conditions, he or she
might also do something called the maze procedure—making
small cuts or burns in the atria. These wounds heal to form scar tissue that
creates boundaries to direct the flow of electrical impulses.
If the cause of your arrhythmia is an
aneurysm (a bulge in a blood vessel) in or near your heart, a ventricular aneurysm surgery can remove the aneurysm.
If your coronary artery disease is in
an advanced stage and you have frequent ventricular tachycardia—a very
life-threatening arrhythmia—you may undergo coronary bypass surgery.
This surgery uses veins or arteries from other parts of your body to “bypass”
veins and arteries in the heart that are narrow or clogged. This will improve
your heart’s blood supply and reduce the frequency of arrhythmias.