In general, the treatment you get after being diagnosed with a cardiac arrhythmia depends on the type and severity of your condition. If you aren’t in danger of developing complications or a worse arrhythmia, you may not need any type of treatment. However, if your symptoms are serious and your doctor suspects that they may lead to other conditions, you’ll definitely be given treatment.
Here are the most common cardiac arrhythmias treatment options:
If the arrhythmia is causing you to have symptoms like lightheadedness or palpitations or is increasing your risk of having a heart attack, cardiac arrest, or stroke, your doctor might prescribe you medication for treating your cardiac arrhythmia.
These medications change the electrical properties of cardiac tissue so that they change the way the electrical signal spreads across the heart. Antiarrhythmic drugs are generally effective in treating tachycardias (causing a rapid heart rate), but they also come with some side effects which makes them difficult to take. Furthermore, these drugs can sometimes make the arrhythmia even worse than before so doctors must be careful with the dose prescribed.
AV Nodal Blocking Drugs
These medications slow your heart’s electrical signal as it travels through the AV node on the way from the atria to the ventricles. AV nodal blocking drugs are especially effective in treating SVT (supraventricular tachycardias), also known as atrial fibrillation, and the tachycardias caused by bypass tracts. Still, these drugs don’t stop the arrhythmia but only slow down the heart rate to eliminate symptoms.
If you are at risk of developing blood clots that may cause a stroke, you may be given anticoagulants, i.e. drugs that keep your blood from clotting and prevent any clots from becoming bigger. However, since they are blood thinners, there’s an increased risk of bleeding and those who take the therapy must do blood tests every year to check for liver and kidney function.
Finally, to decrease the risk of sudden cardiac arrest your doctor may prescribe beta-blockers or ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors. Precisely speaking, beta-blockers reduce the risk of ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation, known to produce cardiac arrest, by blocking the effect of adrenaline on the heart muscle.
To help you control your heart’s rhythm or provide an electric shock if needed, you may need an implantable device.
A pacemaker is a battery-operated device that keeps your heartbeat steady in case it is too slow or irregular. It’s implanted near your collarbone under the skin and it’s then connected to your heart through a wire and uses electrical impulses the keep your heart beating at a regular pace.
Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator
For those who have suffered from a sudden cardiac arrest, have ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation, or are at risk for developing these arrhythmias, an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) may be required. Like a pacemaker, an ICD is also placed near the collarbone and runs on a battery. However, it only kicks in when needed, i.e. when it detects an abnormal rhythm. Then, it sends a shock or a pacing treatment to get the heart back to normal.
Depending on the type and the severity of the arrhythmia, certain surgeries may be used.
If the arrhythmia is caused by abnormalities within the heart’s electrical system, an ablation procedure may be used to disrupt the abnormality and eliminate the arrhythmia. The success rate for people with supraventricular tachycardias is a whopping 90% - 95%.
The best surgery option for people with atrial fibrillation and ventricular fibrillation is electrical cardioversion in which the heart is electrically shocked using a defibrillator to force the heart back into normal rhythm.
A maze procedure is typically recommended when a patient is not responding to other treatments. It involves incisions in the atria (upper part of the heart) that scar over and prevents electrical impulses to create arrhythmia.
Lastly, a coronary bypass is performed to improve blood supply to the heart in case of severe coronary artery disease that causes arrhythmia. This procedure involves a blood vessel grafted from the chest, arm, or leg, and used to connect the aorta to the coronary artery to create a new channel for blood flow.