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What are the Different Types of Atrial Fibrillation Medications?

By Maggie J. Hall
Updated May 17, 2024
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Anticoagulants, antiarrhythmic, and electrolyte channel blockers are some of the commonly used atrial fibrillation medications. Health care providers generally prescribe these medications to prevent potentially dangerous blood clots and to slow the abnormal contraction rate of the atria. These formulations do not cure the condition but they do affect the body in various ways to modify the atrial pumping speed. Physicians typically prescribe these medications for patients to take daily, but some drugs might be prescribed on an as needed basis, when atrial fibrillation episodes occur only intermittently.

When the rhythm of the pumping action between the atria and ventricles of the heart are no longer coordinated with each other, blood does not circulate correctly from one part of the heart to the other. Splash back or pooling may occur, and as blood repeatedly stagnates, clots can form. Health care providers often prescribe anticoagulant medications that inhibit clot formation, as circulating clots may eventually lead to heart attack or stroke. Aspirin and warfarin are some of the commonly prescribed anticoagulant medications used by health care providers.

Digoxin belongs to the group of class V antiarrhythmic drugs. Used as one of the atrial fibrillation medications, digoxin acts by extending the relaxation period of the atria while strengthening each contraction. This combined effect slows the rate of the heart and improves pumping efficiency. Physicians usually prescribe this medication to be taken once daily and recommend that patients check their pulse prior to administration.

The group of atrial fibrillation medications known as beta-blockers prevents chemicals from the sympathetic nervous system from entering certain receptors in the heart. Carvedilol or metoprolol might be prescribed for atrial fibrillation treatment against the effects of adrenaline or epinephrine, which generally speed up body processes including heart rate. If these chemicals are responsible for increasing heart rates, impeding their action generally reverses the effect. These antiarrhythmic drugs are typically taken once daily along with a regimen that includes daily monitoring of blood pressure and pulse.

Calcium channel blockers reduce heart rate in atrial fibrillation by inhibiting or slowing the rate at which calcium ions enter the heart. This action interferes with the atrioventricular electrical impulses and extends the relaxation phase of the atria. By decreasing muscular excitability and prolonging relaxation typically slows the rhythm. Dilitiazem and verapamil belong to this group of antiarrhythmics that are commonly used as atrial fibrillation medications.

Persons might experience atrial fibrillation consistently or intermittently and health care providers prescribe drug treatment according to individual patient symptoms. Various conditions can trigger the rhythmic anomaly and atrial fibrillation medication might be required routinely, only as needed, or routinely with occasional added doses to counteract the abnormal rhythm.

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Discussion Comments

By sugarcube — On Jan 22, 2012

Try Flecainide. It's a life saver for me. Beta blockers never worked for me. I just felt tired and worse when having AF. I have a strong family history of AF (3 generations at least). I found that exercise could trigger it but that without being fit I get worse over all. Having flecainide on me at all times is very reassuring. I also take extra potassium and am on the Atkins diet. Coffee has no bad effects, though.

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