The goals of Atrial Fibrillation (AF) treatment are to:
- Restore a normal heart rhythm
- Control heart rate
- Reduce stroke risk
- Help patients return to a healthy, active life
The treatment selected will depend on the severity of the AF, the symptoms and the patient's lifestyle. Treatment options can be placed into two categories: Suppressive therapies, which work to suppress or control symptoms; or Curative therapies, which are designed to eliminate the cause of the condition and have the potential to cure.
Several different types of medicine can be used to treat AF. Some anitarrhythmics medicines can be used to help restore and maintain a normal heart rhythm. Other medicines may be prescribed to control the heart rate. Anticoagulant medicines are often prescribed for people with AF to help reduce the risk of blood clots forming and causing a stroke.
Occasional episodes of AF can be treated electrically with a procedure called cardioversion. During the procedure, an electrical shock is delivered to the heart to stop AF, and restore a normal heart rhythm. This procedure is performed under temporary anesthesia.
For some patients a catheter ablation is recommended. During the procedure, small wires or electrode catheters are threaded through a blood vessel into the heart to record electrical activity and help locate the problem areas responsible for AF. After locating these areas, an ablation catheter is used to apply high-frequency energy to the inside of the heart, creating a lesion or scar. As a result, this tissue is either electrically isolated from the rest of the heart or made incapable of sustaining AF.
Surgical ablation may be an option for people who can not tolerate drugs or for whom these and/or other therapies have been ineffective. With this procedure, energy is applied to the outside of the heart, creating a lesion or scar that blocks the abnormal electrical signals that causes AF. Patients, who undergo cardiac surgery such as valve replacement or coronary artery bypass, may be advised to receive surgical ablation at the same time.