Medications for Arrhythmia

Updated:Dec 21,2016

When taken exactly as prescribed, medications can do wonders. They can help prevent heart attack and stroke. They can also prevent complications and slow the progression of coronary heart disease.

Some of the major types of commonly prescribed cardiovascular medications used to treat arrhythmias are summarized in this section. It's important to discuss all of the drugs you take with your doctor and understand their desired effects and possible side effects. Never stop taking a medication and never change your dose or frequency without first consulting your doctor.

Antiarrhythmic drugs
Symptomatic tachycardias and premature beats may be treated with a variety of antiarrhythmic drugs. These may be given intravenously in an emergency situation or orally for long-term treatment. These drugs either suppress the abnormal firing of pacemaker tissue or depress the transmission of impulses in tissues that either conduct too rapidly or participate in reentry.

In patients with atrial fibrillation, a blood thinner (anticoagulant or antiplatelet) is usually added to reduce the risk of blood clots and stroke. Learn more about AFib medications.

When tachycardias or premature beats occur often, the effectiveness of antiarrhythmic drug therapy may be gauged by electrocardiographic monitoring in a hospital, by using a 24-hour Holter monitor or by serial drug evaluation with electrophysiologic testing.

The relative simplicity of antiarrhythmic drug therapy must be balanced against two disadvantages. One is that the drugs must be taken daily and indefinitely. The other is the risk of side effects. While side effects are a risk of all medication, those associated with antiarrhythmic drugs can be very hard to manage. They include proarrhythmia, the more-frequent occurrence of preexisting arrhythmias or the appearance of new arrhythmias as bad as or worse than those being treated.

Calcium channel blockers
Calcium channel blockers, also known as "calcium antagonists," work by interrupting the movement of calcium into heart and blood vessel tissue. Besides being used to treat high blood pressure, they're also used to treat angina (chest pain) and/or some arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms).

Beta-blockers
Beta-blockers decrease the heart rate and cardiac output, which lowers blood pressure by blocking the effects of adrenalin. They're also used with therapy for cardiac arrhythmias and in treating angina pectoris.

Anticoagulants
Anticoagulants (blood thinners) work by making it harder for the blood to clot, or coagulate. They aren't designed to dissolve existing blood clots. They prevent new clots from forming or existing clots from getting larger. Because a common type of stroke is caused by a blood clot obstructing blood flow to the brain, anticoagulants are often prescribed for people with certain conditions to prevent the occurrence of a first stroke or to prevent the recurrence if the patient has already had a stroke. Anticoagulants are also given to certain people at risk for forming blood clots, such as those with artificial heart valves or who have atrial fibrillation.


Taking medications

  • Take all medications exactly as prescribed.
  • Never stop taking any prescription medication without first consulting your healthcare provider.
  • If you have any side effects, tell your healthcare provider about them.
  • Tell your healthcare provider about all your other drugs and supplements, including over-the-counter medications and vitamins (and holistic type supplements).
  • Many rhythm disorders, especially tachycardias, respond to medications. Several drugs are now available and more are being developed. These drugs can't cure the arrhythmia, but they can improve symptoms. They do this by preventing the episodes from starting, decreasing the heart rate during the episode or shortening how long the episode lasts.
  • Sometimes it's hard to find the best medication for a child. Several drugs may need to be tried before the right one is found. Some children must take medication every day; others need medications only when they have a tachycardia type episode. It's very important to take the medication as prescribed.
  • All medications have side effects, including drugs to treat arrhythmias. Most of the side effects aren't serious and disappear when the dose is changed or the medication is stopped. But some side effects are very serious. That's why some children are admitted to the hospital to begin the medication. If your child is prescribed medication, it's very important that your child take the medication just the way the doctor prescribes it.
  • It's often necessary to monitor how much of a drug is in your child's blood. The goal is to make sure there's enough of the drug to be effective, but not so much that harmful side effects occur. These blood tests require taking a small amount of blood from a vein or the finger. It's a good idea to talk to your child about this before the doctor visit.

Medicine Management

What is Compliance?

Compliance simply means that you follow the recommendations made by your team of healthcare professionals. These recommendations often include taking medications as well as making lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, eating right, maintaining a healthy weight and getting the right kind of physical activity. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can give you the edge in the fight against heart disease and stroke. Follow your doctor's advice carefully, and if you don't understand something, ask questions. Let your doctor be your coach. It's your health. It's your heart.

Are you a "Good Dog" or "Bad Dog" when it comes to your medication? Take our "Good Dog, Bad Dog Compliance Quiz" and find out how well you follow your healthcare professional's recommendations.

Compliance simply means that you follow the recommendations made by your team of healthcare professionals. These recommendations often include taking medications as well as making lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, eating right, maintaining a healthy weight and getting the right kind of physical activity. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can give you the edge in the fight against heart disease and stroke. Follow your doctor's advice carefully, and if you don't understand something, ask questions. Let your doctor be your coach. It's your health. It's your heart.

Are you a "Good Dog" or "Bad Dog" when it comes to your medication? Take our "Good Dog, Bad Dog Compliance Quiz" and find out how well you follow your healthcare professional's recommendations.

Taking medicine may be new to you, and there may be a lot to remember. However, it's important to take medicine the right way — just as prescribed.

If you don't take medicine as directed, it may not work. It could also cause side effects that may be mild — or very harmful. Without knowing it, you could counteract one medicine by taking it with another. Medicine can also make you feel sick or dizzy.


How can I remember to take my medicine?

  • Take it at the same time every day.
  • Take it along with other daily events, like brushing your teeth.
  • Use special pill boxes that help you keep track, like the ones divided into sections for each day of the week (which can be found at a drugstore).
  • Ask people close to you to help remind you.
  • Keep a "medicine calendar" near your medicine and make a note every time you take your dose.
  • Put a sticker or reminder note on your medicine cabinet or refrigerator. You can buy a small, magnetized white board with dry-erase markers and list your pills on the board. Each day, mark the board when you take your medication. It's an easy way to keep track, and at the end of the day, just erase the board and start over again in the morning.
Download a printable medicine tracker.

Quick Tips for Medication Use

  • Understand your medication. Know what it's for, and how and when you're supposed to take it.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist whether to take your medicine with food or on an empty stomach.
  • Make an instruction sheet for yourself by taping a sample of each pill you take on a sheet of paper and writing down all the information about each pill to remind you.
  • Get some colored labels and stick them on your medicine bottles to simplify your routine. For example, blue can be for morning, red for afternoon and yellow for bedtime.
  • Ask your pharmacist to help you come up with a coding system for your medications that makes them easier to take.
  • Purchase timer caps for pill bottles to remind you when to take medication.

Additional tips:

  • You can buy many types of pill containers. Some even beep when it's time to take medication. Ask your pharmacist about these aids.
  • If your medication routine is too complicated, ask your physician or pharmacist to help you simplify the process, such as reducing the number of daily doses that you need.
  • If your medications are too expensive, ask your physician or pharmacist about finding financial assistance.
  • If you're away from home a lot, make sure you carry enough of your medication with you to take the prescribed doses while you're out.
  • Some pharmacists will prepare blister packs for daily or weekly medications. Ask your pharmacist about this.
  • If you're using a commercial pill dispenser, set a regular time each week to refill it.
  • If you have trouble understanding your physician or pharmacist, ask a friend or loved one to go with you and help you.
  • If you don't feel like your medication is making a difference, talk to your physician and ask why.
  • Do not stop any medications without talking to your physician or healthcare provider.

  • Store your medicine the way your doctor or pharmacist tells you, and take all medications as prescribed.
  • ALWAYS keep it away from heat, light and moisture.
  • Keep track of what pills you can and can't take together, including over-the-counter medicines.
  • Tell your doctor if you have any side effects.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist before buying a new over-the-counter medicine, such as an antihistamine or cold tablets, to be sure they won't interfere with your prescribed medicine.
  • Always check with your doctor before you stop taking a medicine.
  • Make sure that ALL of your doctors know ALL of the prescriptions, OTC drugs, nutritional supplements or herbal preparations you're taking.
  • Don't share your medications with anyone else. What's right for you may be deadly for them.
  • Ask for your pharmacist's advice before crushing or splitting tablets. Some should only be swallowed whole.

Taking medications isn't as simple as swallowing a pill. Medicines can only help if you take them as prescribed. Take part in decisions regarding your treatment, follow the treatment plan you and your doctor agree on, watch for problems and become actively involved in solving them with your healthcare team. By following these guidelines, you can help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke and achieve the fullest benefits from your treatment plan. Review the following questions with your healthcare team and take an active role in your health.


  • What is the name of the medicine?
  • Is this the brand or generic name?
  • What is the medicine supposed to do?
  • How and when do I take it, and for how long?
  • What foods, drinks, other medicines or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?
  • Is there any written information available about the medicine?
  • What happens if I miss a dose of my medicine?
  • How often will I have to get the medication refilled?
  • How will I know that my medication is working?
  • What are the risks of taking this medication?
  • What are the risks of NOT taking this medication?
  • Are there less expensive medications for my condition?

Prescription and over-the-counter medicines help many people live longer, more active lives. When you take the right medicines the right way, they're safe and effective tools for good health. But using them incorrectly can harm you. The more medicines you take, the greater your risk of problems. You can protect your health by getting a checkup on your medications. Take these simple steps as outlined by the National Council on Patient Information and Education.

  • Make an appointment with your doctor or your pharmacist.
     
  • Put all your prescription and over-the-counter drugs in a bag, including:
    • Prescriptions in vials, tubes, bottles and plastic bags
    • Sleep and motion-sickness aids
    • Headache remedies
    • Cold remedies (liquid, capsules and tablets)
    • Laxatives and upset stomach aids
    • Other prescription or over-the-counter drugs you may be taking
    • Vitamins and nutritional supplements
    • Herbal remedies
  •  Take all of your medications in their original containers if possible.
     
  •  Take the bag to your doctor or pharmacist and get him or her to go over all of your medicines with you.
     
  •  Ask questions about anything you don't understand.

A checkup like this gives you the opportunity to ask your healthcare professional or pharmacist important questions about your medications. It can help you find dangerous medicine combinations you may be taking, medicines you may not need to take anymore, improper dosages of medicines, and mistakes that you may be making in taking them. Call your doctor or pharmacist today to schedule a medication checkup and take charge of your health.

Keeping Track / Developing a System

Keeping track of your prescribed medications can be challenging — especially if you're taking several different medicines. Writing things down will make managing your medications a lot easier. Use our printable medicine tracker to stay organized. Also available in Spanish.

Lowering High Blood Pressure
By treating high blood pressure, you can help prevent a stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure and peripheral artery disease. Our printable blood pressure tracker will help you monitor your blood pressure and record suggestions from your doctor. 

 





This content was last reviewed September 2016.
 


Arrhythmia

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