A type of cardiac disorder, atrial fibrillation causes a problem in the heart’s electrical activity. In this condition, the heart experiences irregular and rapid beats in atria (the upper two chambers of the heart). It produces a pulse rate that is considerably higher than 100 beats a minute as compared to the normal pulse rate of a resting heart, which is around 60 to 100 beats a minute. This prevents the heart from pumping blood efficiently, which can eventually impact the heart’s health and magnify the chances of heart diseases. However, atrial fibrillation can be handled efficiently with the help of right medical treatment.
Here are some of the treatments which are implemented to ease atrial fibrillation symptoms.
Drugs used for atrial fibrillation aim to slow down the heart rate, regulate the heart rhythm, and prevent the development of clots. Some of them are as follows:
- Blood thinners – These medications are prescribed to treat an existing blood clot or if you are more likely to develop one. Your doctor will recommend you with drugs like anticoagulants or antiplatelets.
- Beta-blockers – These drugs are used to control the rapid heart rate. As your pulse rate calms, it helps you to function better in your routine life.
- Calcium channel blockers – Like beta blockers, calcium channel blockers are used to decelerate the heart rate for atrial fibrillation patients. They also help in minimizing the intensity of the muscle cells’ contraction.
- Heart-rhythm controlling medicines – They slow the electrical signals to bring your heartbeat into a normal rhythm. These treatments are also called “chemical cardioversion.” These include sodium channel blockers and potassium channel blockers. The former alters the heart’s ability to process electricity, whereas the latter slows the electric signals that trigger atrial fibrillation.
All the stated medications for atrial fibrillation have their own set of side-effects. Therefore, they must only be taken under your cardiologist’s guidance.
This procedure involves giving low levels of electrical shock to the patient’s chest with the help of patches or paddles. The individual is under the influence of mild anesthesia while this treatment is performed. Electrical cardioversion is used for restoring the heart’s rhythm. In most cases, the heart rate of the patient successfully resets, however, there is a possibility of the symptoms arising again.
Surgical and catheter procedures
In some scenarios, medicines or cardioversion might fail to subside the symptoms. So, the cardiologist might suggest procedures that destroy parts of the heart affected by atrial fibrillation which cause irregular electrical signals. Such methods can help your heart rhythm to get back to normal.
- Catheter ablation – In this corrective procedure, the doctor introduces a catheter through the blood vessels and directs it towards the heart. The catheter has electrodes at its tips which can use cryotherapy, radiotherapy energy, and heat to scar the tissues and destroy areas so that the unusual electrical activity of the heart ceases. Catheter ablation fixes atrial fibrillation effectively without the help of implantable machines and drugs.
- Surgical maze procedure – A maze procedure is implemented, during open-heart surgery. The doctors use a scalpel to make precise incisions in the atria (upper chambers of the heart) so that a scar tissue pattern is created. As these scar tissues don’t conduct electricity, it automatically neutralizes the random electrical signals. Cryotherapy or radiotherapy can be used for creating scars in the atria. Although such techniques have been beneficial for several patients, atrial fibrillation might reappear. Also, since it requires open-heart surgery, this option is only considered for patients who don’t respond to any forms of treatments.
- Atrioventricular (AV) node ablation – This medical technique uses radiofrequency energy on the passage linking the atria (upper chambers) and ventricles (lower chambers) of the heart with the help of catheter to destroy the affected tissue. This thwarts the electrical signals that are generated from the atria and sent to the ventricles. A pacemaker is then positioned in the heart so that the ventricles continue to function efficiently. Like a surgical maze, this procedure is also used for individuals who aren’t responding well to other atrial fibrillation treatments.
- Left atrial appendage closure – In this procedure, the cardiologist places a catheter through the vein in the leg and guides it to the right atrium (the upper right chamber of the heart). Then a tiny hole is created in the heart’s wall, and it is gradually introduced into the left atrium. The doctors will then insert left atrial appendage closure device for sealing the appendage (a small sac) in the left atrium. This diminishes the risk of blood clots as they often develop in the left atrial appendage. It is used for patients who aren’t benefiting from the use of anticoagulants or who are more likely to have blood clots or bleed.