Understand medications and why they are helpful. Medications can be a commitment for life and health!
Medications, for most patients, are the most helpful form of treatment. However, many studies show that patients often stop taking medications because of side effects or their own belief that they no longer need it. Discontinuing medications can be very dangerous!
If you have been prescribed heart medications, taking and tracking your medications is one of the best things you can do for your health.
Hear more from Dr. Clyde Yancy.
Medications for atrial fibrillation (AF)
Medications are often prescribed to prevent and treat blood clots which can lead to a stroke. Additional drugs may be prescribed to control heart rate and rhythm in the AF patient. These medications may also be used in conjunction with other treatments. The heart rhythm can be more difficult to control. The longer you have untreated AF, the less likely it is that normal rhythm can be reestablished.
Medication options may include blood thinners, rate controllers, and rhythm controllers. Lists included here are not intended to be comprehensive, and we encourage you to revisit our page often to keep up with the newest in AF medication options.
Preventing Clots with Medication (antiplatelets and anticoagulants)
Drugs such as blood thinners are given to patients to prevent blood clot formation or to treat an existing blood clot. Examples include:
- Other FDA approved anticoagulants such as rivaroxaban and dabigatran
Antiplatelets can increase your risk of bleeding. Even though aspirin can be purchased over the counter, it is important that you do not take more than the dose prescribed by your doctor. Report any of the symptoms stated below to your healthcare provider.
Anticoagulants increase risk of bleeding. If you are prescribed warfarin-there is usually follow up blood tests that are necessary to monitor and achieve optimal dosing. Read our patient's guide to taking warfarin.
Important Precautions when taking anti-clotting medications
- Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any unusual bleeding or bruising
- If you forget to take your daily anticoagulant dose, don't take an extra one to catch up! Follow your healthcare provider's directions about what to do if you miss a dose.
- Always tell you doctor, dentist and pharmacist that you take one of these medicines. This is especially important before you start taking a new medication or have any procedure that can cause bleeding.
- Discuss any new medications with your healthcare providers. Many drugs change the effects of these agents on the body. Even vitamins (and some foods) could change the effect.
- If you have an accident of any kind
- If you often find bruises or blood blisters
- If you feel sick, weak, faint or dizzy
- If you think you are pregnant
- If you notice red, dark brown or black urine or stools
- If you bleed more with periods
- Bleeding gums
- Bad headache or stomach ache that won't go away
Heart Rate Controlling Medication
- Beta blockers. These are drugs used to slow the heart rate. Most people can function and feel better if their heart rate is controlled. Read more about beta blockers.
Some examples may include:
- Calcium channel blockers. These medications have multiple effects on the heart. They are used to slow the heart rate in patients with AF and to reduce the strength of the muscle cell’s contraction.
- Digoxin. This medication slows the rate at which electrical currents are conducted from the atria to the ventricle.
Once your heart rate is under control, the next management consideration is usually treating the abnormal heart rhythm with medications to restore the heart rhythm to normal. Significant side effects may occur, and your healthcare provider will most likely want to monitor progress closely.
- Sodium channel blockers which help the heart's rhythm by slowing the heart's ability to conduct electricity.
Examples may include
- Potassium channel blockers help the heart’s rhythm by slowing down the electrical signals that cause AF.
Examples may include:
Amiodarone (Cordarone® or Pacerone®)
Treatment options for AF also include non-surgical and surgical approaches. You and your healthcare provider will need to discuss the best options for you.
This content was last reviewed on 05/30/2012.