While medication will not cure your arrhythmia, it may be effective in controlling the rate at which the upper and lower chambers of your heart beat. Antiarrhythmic medications—such as beta blockers—can reduce episodes of tachycardia (fast heartbeat) or slow down the heart during an episode. If medications make your heart slow down too much, you may need a pacemaker to help regulate your heart rate. Consult your doctor regarding the specific side effects associated with your prescribed medication.
In addition, Anticoagulant medicines are often prescribed for people with atrial fibrillation (AF) to help reduce the risk of blood clots forming and causing a stroke.
For more information about medications commonly used to treat arrhythmias, visit the American Heart Association Web site.
Cardioversion is used for tachycardia (fast heartbeat) that starts in the top half of your heart (atria). Cardioversion is an electrical shock used to reset your heart to its regular rhythm. Cardioversion can be done through medication as described above or through electricity. In electrical cardioversion, energy is applied to the heart to jolt it out of an arrhythmia. Cardioversion is often used in combination with medication discussed above.
There are two types of electrical cardioversion:
- External cardioversion – Two external paddles are placed on your chest or on the chest and back. A high-energy electrical pulse is sent from the paddles, through the body to the heart. The energy jolts the heart back into normal rhythm.
- Internal cardioversion – Instead of using paddles outside the body, a small wire called a catheter is inserted through a vein to the heart. The electrical energy is delivered through the catheter to the inside of the heart to stop the arrhythmia.
For more information about cardioversion, visit the Mayo Clinic Web site.
Benefits and Risks
Medication may control your arrhythmia. While this is a relatively simple treatment, there are risks to consider. Medications must be taken daily and indefinitely and you may experience side effects. Consult your physician regarding the specific side effects associated with your prescribed medication.
Cardioversion may restore your normal heartbeat. Complications of electric cardioversion are rare. Risks include dislodged blood clots that can cause a stroke or an embolism. In rare cases, other heart rhythm problems may emerge after cardioversion.
Last Reviewed: March 11, 2010 900245