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Treatment

The good news is that with the right treatment, you can live a good life with AFib. But you need to be in tune with your heart and body. Untreated, atrial fibrillation can lead to blood clots, stroke and other heart-related problems, including heart failure. 

Your treatment will likely depend on:

  • Your age
  • Your symptoms and the frequency of episodes
  • Whether your heart rate is under control
  • Your risk for stroke (see the CHADS2VASC score to determine your risk and need for anticoagulation)
  • Other medical conditions, including if you already have heart disease 

Treatment of AFib focuses on lifestyle changes and either rate control or rhythm control. Therapies to prevent blood clots and stroke are also important. 

Read More: Understanding Risks of Stroke and Blood Thinners

Lifestyle changes may include:

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich foods, lean meats and fish and unsaturated fats like olive oil
  • Limiting alcohol and caffeine
  • Exercising regularly—aim to get 30 minutes of physical activity most days
  • Managing stress levels
  • Not smoking
  • Taking your medication(s) as directed and managing other conditions 

In addition to lifestyle changes, treatments often include medications and/or procedures.

Medications are used to:

  • Prevent clots from forming or to dissolve an existing clot
  • Restore your heart’s rate or rhythm 

Medications to prevent or treat blood clots and stroke include:

Talk with your doctor about which blood thinner is right for you. Keep in mind that if you take a blood thinner, you must be very cautious about falls and other accidents that might cause bleeding. There are medicines or antidotes that can reverse the blood-thinning power of warfarin, but no reversal agents exist yet for the newer medications. 

Read More: Understanding Risks of Stroke and Blood Thinners

There may also be dietary restrictions. For example, foods like spinach, kale and other vegetables are rich in vitamin K, which can disrupt the way warfarin works. That’s why you have to be careful to consume the same amount every day if you take warfarin. You also need to have your blood checked frequently when taking this medicine (called your INR/PT).  

Rate controlling medications Heart rhythm controlling medications

Your treatment may also involve medical procedures such as:
  • Electrical cardioversion—uses low-voltage electrical shock applied to the chest with paddles to restore a normal rhythm
  • Catheter-based ablation—a tube is inserted into a vein in the leg and threaded to the heart to fix the faulty electrical signals
  • Surgical maze—small scar lines are made on the heart, creating a “maze” to prevent or redirect the abnormal beats from controlling the heart. This is done through open heart surgery.
  • Pacemakers or atrial defibrillators—implantable devices that help restore and maintain regular heart rhythm
  • Last Edited 09/30/2015