Arrhythmia Medication and Cardioversion Treatment Options
Your doctor may choose noninvasive heart arrhythmia treatments in place of—or before recommending—more invasive procedures, such as implanting a pacemaker or implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD), or performing cardiac ablation. Medication or cardioversion may be effective in controlling arrhythmia in many patients.
While taking medication will not cure an arrhythmia, it may help control an irregular heart rate or restore and/or maintain a normal heart rhythm. For example:
- Antiarrhythmic medications such as amioadarone, when used as prescribed, can reduce episodes of tachycardia (fast heartbeat). Antiarrhythmic medications can also slow down your heart during an episode. If a medication makes your heart slow down too much, however, you may need to have your medication adjusted by your doctor or receive a pacemaker to help regulate your heart rate.
- If you have atrial fibrillation (AF), your doctor may prescribe blood-thinner medication to help reduce the risk of blood clots forming and causing a stroke.
Arrhythmia medication risks
Taking medication can help control your arrhythmia. However, this treatment option can involve risks, including side effects. Take your prescribed medication daily and consult with your doctor about any side effects.
Occasionally, it is necessary to use cardioversion to immediately treat a patient whose heart is in atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter or supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). While cardioversion can restore a normal heart rhythm, typically the results are not permanent. Cardioversion treats a tachycardia by applying an electric shock to the heart to restore its normal rhythm.
A doctor performs cardioversion in one of two ways:
- Electrical cardioversion, which can be external or internal:
- External cardioversion: When you have this treatment, your doctor places two paddles on your chest or on your chest and back. The paddles then send a high-energy electrical pulse through your body to your heart, restoring your heart to a normal rhythm.
- Chemical cardioversion, or cardioversion with drugs:
- When you have this treatment, your doctor may administer an antiarrhythmic drug—a drug used to suppress irregular heart rhythms—prior to trying electrical cardioversion, especially if electrical cardioversion has been unsuccessful in the past.
Although complications from cardioversion are rare, some risks accompany the procedure. These risks include causing a blockage in a blood vessel (called an embolism), which can dislodge and cause stroke. In rare cases, other heart rhythm disorders may emerge after cardioversion.
Learn some of the drugs commonly used to treat arrhythmias from the American Heart Association.
Find out what receiving treatment for your arrhythmia can involve.