Early Rhythm-Control Therapy May Improve Outcomes for AFib

Early Rhythm-Control Therapy May Improve Outcomes for AFib

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is an irregular and usually increased heart rate that can cause blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other cardiovascular complications. Luckily, early intervention with rhythm-control therapy in newly-diagnosed atrial fibrillation patients can be very beneficial, according to a study.

This therapy is generally used when other atrial fibrillation treatments have proven to be ineffective, like medications or surgical procedures. Rhythm-control therapy is found successful for those patients because it helps in the regulation of the patient’s heartbeat.

The Study of Rhythm-Control Therapy in Early-Diagnosed Patients

The study that proved the effectiveness of rhythm-control therapy involved almost 3,000 newly-diagnosed AFib patients divided into two groups. The first group received standard treatment while the second one underwent rhythm-control therapy.

The patients were followed for a bit more than five years and during that time researchers found that the second group, the one that used rhythm-control therapy, had lower chances of dying from heart causes, suffer from stroke, or be hospitalized.

But, remember that these are all newly-diagnosed patients. Thus, trying rhythm-control therapy right after being diagnosed can help in reducing the risks of complications.

What’s Atrial Fibrillation and How it is Usually Treated?

Heart arrhythmia is a condition characterized by too slow, too fast, or irregular heartbeat. And, the most common type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation which can either occur in short episodes or be a permanent condition. Atrial fibrillation involves irregular heartbeat in the upper heart chambers which impedes the blood flow from the upper chambers to the heart lower ventricles.

Once a patient gets diagnosed with AFib, doctors usually try to reach the following outcomes:

  • Restore the normal rhythm of the heart
  • Lower high heart rate
  • Prevent other issues related to heart rhythm
  • Manage stroke risk factors
  • Prevent blood clots and heart failure

In order to reach these goals a great variety of treatment options may be tried, however, if AFib is early detected, the treatment usually involves medications such as:

  • Calcium channel blockers to reduce a high heart rate and heart muscle’s contractions strength;
  • Beta-blockers to reduce a high heart rate;
  • Digoxin to reduce a high heart rate of the heart electrical currents; and
  • Sodium or potassium channel blockers to restore the normal rhythm of the heart.

In addition to this, doctors recommend certain lifestyle changes like following a healthy diet, regular exercise, and high blood pressure control.

How is Rhythm-Control Therapy Beneficial?

Rhythm-control therapy involves the use of antiarrhythmic medications that prevent abnormal heartbeats or atrial fibrillation ablation which is a catheter-based surgical procedure involving scarring on the inside of the heart that suppresses electrical signals that lead to atrial fibrillation. In other words, both of these treatments differ in their invasiveness.

In the study mentioned above, 95 % of the patients took antiarrhythmic drugs such as dronedarone, propafenone, flecainide, or amiodarone, whereas the remaining 5% underwent the invasive surgical procedure. After two years, 46% were still taking the same medications while 19% underwent an atrial fibrillation ablation.

Researchers pointed out that rhythm-control therapy is a great treatment modality addition to keep AFib under control. More than 90% of the patients involved in the study received anticoagulants and other therapies. So, rhythm-control therapy in early-diagnosed AFib patients was beneficial when added to other treatments.