Medications to Manage Arrhythmias
Some arrhythmias may be controlled with medications prescribed alone or in combination. The patient's medical condition determines the types of medications we choose. It may take a few changes in medication dosage, and even type, to arrive at the best solution for each patient.
Because atrial fibrillation could cause blood to stagnate, forming a clot that could travel to the brain, patients may be prescribed a blood thinning medication to decrease their risk of stroke. Patients with a low risk of stroke could simply be treated by taking one aspirin per day, but for those at higher risk there are two main options.
The first option is warfarin (Coumadin), which is taken daily and requires regular blood tests to make sure the level of the drug in the bloodstream isn't too high (meaning it could cause excessive bleeding) or too low (meaning it's not providing full protection).
A newer drug is dabigatran (Pradaxa), which has the advantages over Coumadin of not requiring monitoring with regular blood tests, and being less likely to cause dangerous bleeding in the brain (although the overall risk of bleeding is similar to that of Coumadin). On the downside, Pradaxa has to be taken twice daily, and it could cause gastrointestinal symptoms in some patients.
For uncomplicated abnormal heart rhythms, a mainstay of treatment is anti-arrhythmia medication. These drugs work on different parts of the electrical pathway to slow, speed, or regulate heartbeats. Dedicated medications, alone or in combination, treat abnormal rhythms in the upper or lower chambers.