Knowledge is the first step toward successful management of AFib. This general overview will help get you get acquainted with some of the main terms and procedures associated with AFib so that you make the best, most informed decisions possible about your health care.

Afib treatments may include one or more of the following:
  • Anticoagulant medication to reduce the risk of blood clots and stroke
  • Antiarrhythmic drugs, rate control drugs, calcium channel blockers, beta blockers
  • Cardiac ablation
  • Cardiac defibrillation
  • Devices to help treat arrhythmias
  • Surgery
Factors you and your doctor may consider in your Afib treatment plan1:
  • The nature or cause of the arrhythmia (where it starts in your heart)
  • The severity of the arrhythmia
  • The severity of your symptoms
  • If you have other health problems and/or medications you take
  • Your age, overall health and personal and family medical history

Rate and rhythm control medications are often a first course of action in managing Afib. If you don’t respond to or can’t tolerate drug therapy for Afib, catheter ablation may be recommended to treat your arrhythmia.

Pharmacological Treatment

What is rate control medication?

Rate control medication is used to slow your heart rate to less than 100 beats per minute. It works by blocking the electrical impulses that are being improperly generated by the atria. In this way, it prevents those impulses from reaching the ventricles and causing ventricular tachycardia, which can become a life-threatening medical emergency.

What is rhythm control medication?

If rate control medication doesn't work to control your arrhythmia, then a rhythm control medication may be used to try to restore your heart's normal rhythm. Rhythm control medication is also called "drug cardioversion" or “chemical cardioversion.”

Learn more about these medications in the prescription drug treatment section.

Non-Pharmacological Treatment

What are non-pharmacological treatment options for cardiac arrhythmia?

Non-pharmacological options that can be used to treat your arrhythmia may include implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs), cardioversion and catheter ablation.

What is an ICD?

An ICD is a medical device that is inserted into your chest, like a pacemaker. When an episode of fast, irregular heartbeats begins, the device delivers a shock to end the tachycardia, preventing your heart from going into ventricular fibrillation. Ventricular fibrillation is frequently fatal.

What is cardioversion?

Cardioversion is an arrhythmia treatment that is used to restore your heart’s normal rhythm. Chemical cardioversion is implemented using fast-acting drugs. Electrical cardioversion uses an electric current delivered via paddles to your chest.

An electrical cardioversion is performed in a hospital setting such as an emergency room, intensive care unit, recovery room, special procedure room or electrophysiology lab. This split-second interruption of the abnormal beat allows your heart's electrical system to regain control and restore your normal heartbeat. This method does not provide you with a permanent arrhythmia solution.

What is catheter ablation?

Cardiac catheter ablation is a nonsurgical technique that neutralizes parts of the abnormal electrical pathway that is causing your arrhythmia. This AFib treatment technique uses a variety of imaging and monitoring systems that navigate flexible wires, called catheters, into your heart through an artery or vein.

Once inside your heart, one or more catheters are used to pinpoint the source of the abnormal electrical signals. When the source of your arrhythmia is located, the catheter delivers bursts of high-energy waves that eliminate the abnormal areas.

Most patients who receive catheter ablation treatment experience a long-term reduction in the number of episodes of arrhythmia and the severity of symptoms. Many achieve a permanent return to normal heart rhythm.

The catheter ablation section of this site contains more detailed information about this AFib treatment option.

1 Heart Rhythm Society. "Treatments." Copyright, 2004.

Caution: US law restricts this device to sale by or on the order of a physician. Important information: Prior to use, refer to the instructions for use supplied with this device for indications, contraindications, side effects, warnings and precautions.

The NAVISTAR® THERMOCOOL®, EZ STEER® THERMOCOOL® NAV, THERMOCOOL® SF NAV, and THERMOCOOL SMARTTOUCH® Catheters are FDA approved for the treatment of drug refractory recurrent symptomatic paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, when used with compatible three-dimensional electroanatomic mapping systems. Catheter ablation for AF may not be an option for you if you have any of the following conditions: certain recent heart surgery; prosthetic valves; active systemic infection; certain cancers; intracardiac thrombus, or an interatrial baffle or patch. Consult your physician to find out if catheter ablation is right for you.

As with any medical treatment, individual results may vary. Only a cardiologist or electrophysiologist can determine whether ablation is an appropriate course of treatment. There are potential risks including bleeding, swelling or bruising at the catheter insertion site, and infection. More serious complications are rare, which can include damage to the heart or blood vessels; blood clots (which may lead to stroke); heart attack, or death. These risks need to be discussed with your doctor and recovery takes time.

THERMOCOOL® Navigation Catheters are indicated for the treatment of recurrent drug/device refractory sustained monomorphic ventricular tachycardia (VT) due to prior myocardial infarction (MI) in adults.