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You have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. With this condition, your heart’s two upper chambers quiver rather than squeeze the blood out in a normal pattern. This leads to an irregular and sometimes rapid heartbeat. Some people will develop associated symptoms such as a flip flopping heartbeat, lightheadedness or shortness of breath. Other people may have no symptoms at all. Atrial fibrillation is serious since it affects the heart’s ability to fill with blood as it should. Blood clots may form; this increases the risk of stroke. Untreated atrial fibrillation can also lead to heart failure. Atrial fibrillation can be controlled. With individualized treatment, most people with atrial fibrillation lead normal lives. It is estimated that over 2.5 million Americans have atrial fibrillation.
Recommended treatment for atrial fibrillation depends on your age, symptoms, duration of atrial fibrillation and other factors. You will undergo a complete evaluation to determine if you have any abnormalities that caused your heart to go into atrial fibrillation, such as blocked heart arteries or a thyroid problem. Your doctor will assess your particular situation and discuss options with you.
Treatment options may include:
Treating an underlying disorder that puts you at risk for atrial fibrillation. For example, correcting an abnormal thyroid or electrolyte problem, or treating a blocked heart artery.
Restoring a normal heart rhythm with an electrical shock (cardioversion) or with an antiarrhythmic medication (chemical cardioversion)
Using medication to control your heart rate in atrial fibrillation.
Preventing the risk of blood clot and stroke using blood thinning medications. Your doctor will provide education on what is recommended for you. Options may include aspirin, clopidogrel, warfarin, dabigatran, rivaroxaban, or apixaban.
Catheter ablation and maze procedure use different methods to destroy certain areas of heart tissue to interupt the electrical signals responsible for atrial fibrillation. One of these procedures may be an option when medications are not effective.
Other treatment options may be recommended for you by your doctor.
Managing risk factors for stroke and preventing heart failure are essential components of any atrial fibrillation treatment plan.
Take your medications exactly as directed. Don’t skip doses.
Work with your doctor to determine the proper medications and doses.
Learn to take your own pulse. Keep a record of your results. Ask your doctor which pulse rates mean that you need medical attention. Slowing your pulse is often the goal of treatment. Ask your doctor if it’s okay for you to use an automatic machine to check your pulse at home. Sometimes these machines don’t count the pulse correctly when you have atrial fibrillation.
Limit your intake of coffee, tea, cola, and other beverages with caffeine to 2 per day. Talk with your doctor about whether you should eliminate caffeine.
Avoid over-the-counter medications that contain caffeine.
Let your doctor know what medication you take, including prescription and over-the-counter as well as any supplements. They interfere with some medications given for atrial fibrillation.
Ask your doctor about whether or not you can drink alcohol. Sometimes alcohol needs to be avoided to better treat atrial fibrillation. If you are taking blood-thinner medications, alcohol may interfere with them by increasing their effect.
Never take stimulants such as amphetamines or cocaine. These drugs can speed up your heart rate and trigger atrial fibrillation.
Make a follow-up appointment as directed by our staff.
Call your doctor immediately if you have any of the following:
Shortness of breath
Chest pain with increased activity
A change in the usual regularity of your heartbeat, or an unusually fast heartbeat