Medication Reduces Recurrence of Atrial Fibrillation

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT), September 7, 2013 | Go to article overview

Medication Reduces Recurrence of Atrial Fibrillation


DEAR DOCTOR K » I went to my doctor after a few episodes of shortness of breath. It turned out to be atrial fibrillation. How is this condition treated?

DEAR READER » Atrial fibrillation is a heart rhythm disorder that causes a rapid and irregular heartbeat. In this condition, electrical signals in the heart become uncoordinated. As a result, the chambers of the heart stop pumping in a coordinated and efficient way. (I've put an illustration showing electrical signals in a healthy heart and in a heart affected by atrial fibrillation on my website, AskDoctorK.com.)

Atrial fibrillation doesn't always cause symptoms, but most people who develop it can tell: The symptoms include palpitations, fainting, dizziness, weakness, shortness of breath and chest pain.

There are different treatments to restore a normal heart rhythm when you are having atrial fibrillation. When a patient of mine first develops it, I always try medication first. It's important to move quickly: The longer the heart is allowed to stay in atrial fibrillation, the harder it is to restore a normal heart rhythm.

Medicines often can restore a normal rhythm. When they don't work, another treatment option is electrical cardioversion. This treatment delivers a small electrical shock to the chest. The shock can "reset" the heart to a normal rhythm.

Unfortunately, many patients eventually redevelop atrial fibrillation. A number of different medicines can reduce the risk that atrial fibrillation will recur. Beta-blocker or antiarrhythmic drugs are used for this purpose. However, none of them is perfect; sometimes the irregular heart rhythm returns anyway. And all of the medications can have side effects. …

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