Treatment for atrial fibrillation (AF) depends on how severe or frequent the symptoms are and whether you already have heart disease. General treatment options include medicines, medical procedures, and lifestyle changes.
Goals of Treatment
The goals of treating AF include the following:
- Preventing blood clots from forming, thereby reducing the risk of stroke.
- Controlling how many times a minute the ventricles contract. This is called rate control. Rate control is important because it allows the ventricles enough time to completely fill with blood. With this approach, the irregular heart rhythm continues, but the person feels better and has fewer symptoms.
- Restoring a normal heart rhythm. This is called rhythm control. Rhythm control allows the atria and ventricles to work together to efficiently pump blood to the body.
- Treating any underlying disorder that's causing or raising the risk of AF—for example, hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone).
Specific Types of Treatment
Blood Clot Prevention
The risk of a blood clot traveling from the heart to the brain and causing a stroke is increased in people who have AF. Preventing blood clots from forming is probably the most important part of treating AF. This can be treated with medicines or medical procedures.
Doctors prescribe medicines to slow down the rate at which the ventricles are beating. These medicines help bring the heart rate to a normal level.
Doctors use medicines or procedures to restore and maintain the heart's rhythm. This treatment approach is recommended for people who aren't functioning well with rate control treatment or who have only recently started having AF.
This answer from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. William D. Knopf.