To help get the heart back into normal rhythm right away, two treatments may be used. These treatments are called cardioversion. They may involve electrical shocks or special drugs given through the veins. They may be done as an emergency, or planned ahead of time.
Daily medicines taken by mouth are used:
To slow the irregular heartbeat. These medications may include beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and digoxin.
To keep atrial fibrillation from coming back. These medications may work well in many people, but they can have serious side effects. Many patients go back to atrial fibrillation, even while taking these medications.
Blood thinners -- such as heparin, warfarin (Coumadin), apixaban, and dabigatran (Pradaxa) -- reduce the risk of a blood clot traveling in the body (such as a stroke). Because these drugs increase the chance of bleeding, not everyone can use them. Antiplatelet drugs such as aspirin or clopidogrel may also be prescribed. Your doctor will consider your age and other medical problems when deciding which drug is best.
A procedure called radiofrequency ablation can be used to destroy areas in your heart that may be causing your heart rhythm problems. You may need a heart pacemaker after this procedure.
Treatment can often control this disorder. Many people with atrial fibrillation do very well.
However, atrial fibrillation tends to return and get worse. It may come back even with treatment.
Clots that break off and travel to the brain can cause a stroke.
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of atrial fibrillation or flutter.
Follow your health care provider's recommendations for treating conditions that cause atrial fibrillation/flutter. Avoid binge drinking.
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Fuster V, Ryden LE, Cannom DS, Crijns HJ, Curtis AB, Ellenbogen KA, et al. 2011 ACCF/AHA/HRS focused updates incorporated into the ACC/AHA/ESC 2006 Guidelines for the management of patients with atrial fibrillation: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines developed in partnership with the European Society of Cardiology and in collaboration with the European Heart Rhythm Association and the Heart Rhythm Society. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2011;57:e101-198.
Morady F, Zipes DP. Atrial fibrillation: clinical featuers, mechanisms, and management. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 40.
Olgin J, Zipes DP. Specific arrhythmias: diagnosis and treatment. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 39.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.