Medical Therapy for Atrial Fibrillation & Atrial Flutter in Adults
The goals of treatment for atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter include preventing stroke, controlling heart rate, restoring a normal heart rate rhythm, and identifying underlying causes for these arrhythmias.
When lifestyle changes alone are not enough to control atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter, cardiac electrophysiologists at NYU Langone’s Heart Rhythm Center may prescribe medication to slow your heart rate, control its rhythm, and prevent a life threatening stroke.
Medications to Control Heart Rate and Rhythm
Your cardiologist may prescribe medications to control the heart’s rhythm and the rate at which it beats.
These medications may be prescribed to control heart rate and rhythm, particularly in people who are diagnosed with heart failure and atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter.
There are many types of antiarrhythmics, each designed to control electrical impulses to the heart. Some types can also strengthen ventricular, or lower chamber, contractions, which can help the heart pump more blood to the body.
Beta blockers can lower your heart rate by inhibiting the effects of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, on the heart and blood vessels. These hormones are responsible for the “fight or flight” response to stress, which can trigger an arrhythmia.
Calcium Channel Blockers
Calcium channel blockers relax the walls of blood vessels and slow your heart rate. This can help lower the fast heart rate associated with atrial fibrillation.
Medications to Prevent Stroke
Your cardiologist may prescribe medications to prevent a life threatening stroke that can be caused by some arrhythmias.
In atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter, the backup of blood into the heart’s upper chambers can cause blood clots to form. The heart may pump these clots to the brain, causing a stroke.
To prevent blood clots, your NYU Langone cardiologist doctor may prescribe anticoagulants. Some of these medications can cause bleeding, such as nosebleeds. Your doctor may require that you are regularly monitored using blood testing to determine your risk for excessive bleeding.
If the side effects of anticoagulants prevent you from taking them, your doctor may recommend antiplatelets, such as aspirin. These medications prevent platelets—blood cells that form clots in response to an injury—from clumping together.