6 Options for Treating Atrial Fibrillation: What You Need to Know

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia. If you have an irregular heartbeat, it means your blood isn’t flowing through your heart like it should, which can lead to complications, such as blood clots and stroke.

The treatment for atrial fibrillation depends on several factors, including your age, your symptoms, how often you experience symptoms and if you have other health issues. It’s important to know your options and work with your doctor to develop a plan that’s right for you.

Dr. Larry Weathers with Mercy Clinic Cardiology explains six treatment options for atrial fibrillation.

1. Medications

Your doctor may prescribe blood thinners to prevent or treat blood clots which can lead to stroke. There are other medications that can help control heart rate and rhythm, which include beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and antiarrhythmic agents.

2. Cardioversion

Cardioversion is a procedure that uses a brief, mild electrical shock to reset a person’s heartbeat. But it’s only a temporary fix for a fast heart rate. Medicines and other procedures may be needed to provide more lasting relief.

3. Catheter Ablation

During this minimally-invasive procedure, your doctor will selectively destroy heart tissue – either to remove the source of the abnormal electrical signals or to reroute the signals that are causing the irregular heartbeat.

Thin, flexible wires (catheters) are inserted into a vein, usually in the groin or neck, and threaded to the heart. Electrodes at the tip of the wires carry radio waves that create heat to destroy the selected heart tissue. Another option is cryoablation, which uses a freezing cold application to destroy the heart tissue.

4. LARIAT Procedure

The LARIAT procedure has proven effective in lowering the risk of blood clots and stroke in patients with AFib who can’t take blood-thinning medications.

With the LARIAT procedure, your doctor threads a catheter with a lasso-shaped suture to the heart. The suture is then used to seal off the left upper chamber. This keeps blood clots from leaving the chamber and moving to the brain to cause a stroke. Unlike traditional surgical treatments, the LARIAT procedure is completed through small punctures in the skin, so there is a shorter recovery time and less risk of complications.

5. Maze Procedure

During the procedure, a surgeon makes small incisions on the upper chambers of the heart in a maze-like pattern. The incisions create scar tissue that will block the electrical signals causing the irregular heartbeat.

Your surgeon makes the cuts using very hot or cold applications from radio waves, freezing, microwaves or ultrasound energy. The maze procedure can be completed through small cuts in the chest or during open-heart surgery. It is often done at the same time a person is having coronary artery bypass or valve repair surgery.

The maze procedure has proven to be very successful in treating patients with atrial fibrillation – stopping the problem in about nine out of 10 people. A patient may need to take heart rhythm medicine after the procedure.

6. Pacemaker

For some people with heart rhythm problems, particularly when the heart is beating too slowly, a pacemaker can help. A pacemaker is a small battery-powered device that sends weak electrical impulses to help the heart set a regular, effective pace. Permanent pacemakers are implanted into the chest using minor surgery and local anesthesia. Your doctor will make a small incision in your chest wall just below your collarbone and then thread wires (leads) to the upper chest and into the heart.

Most pacemakers have rates that vary in response to different levels of activity. If you are exercising, for example, it may cause your heart to beat faster to meet your body's increased needs.

Your Mercy heart specialist will help you decide which treatment option is best for you. Your doctor is supported by a wide network of expert physicians and the very best technology and hospitals, all focused on getting and keeping your heart healthy.

Larry Weathers, MD, is a fellowship-trained cardiologist at Mercy Clinic Cardiology in Rogers, AR. To schedule an appointment, call 479-338-4400.