AFib Treatment: Get Your Heartbeat Back In Rhythm

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AFib — or atrial fibrillation — is a condition that causes the heart to beat irregularly. It doesn’t always cause major symptoms. “But whether or not you have symptoms, AFib isn’t something you should ignore,” says Henry Ford cardiologist and electrophysiology specialist Marc K. Lahiri, M.D.

Untreated, AFib can damage the heart and increase the risk of stroke. “AFib is a significant condition, but it’s also manageable,” he says. “If you have it, it’s important to get assessed and treated.”

If you’ve been diagnosed with AFib, here’s what you should know.

Good Reasons To Treat Atrial Fibrillation

AFib can cause symptoms such as fatigue and shortness of breath that interfere with quality of life. “Treating the underlying condition can make you more comfortable as you go about your daily routines,” Dr. Lahiri says.

Even if you aren’t bothered by AFib symptoms, treatment is important because the condition can cause significant health problems, including: 

  • Heart failure: Untreated AFib can make a heart race too quickly. “If that continues for days or weeks, it can tire out the heart muscle and potentially lead to heart failure,” he says.
  • Stroke: When people experience AFib, their blood doesn’t flow as briskly as it should. When blood pools up, it can form clots that can break loose and travel through the bloodstream. If those clots land in the brain, they can cause a stroke. “Stroke is the biggest fear in people with atrial fibrillation,” he says. “Everyone with AFib should be assessed for their risk of stroke.”

Goals For AFib Treatment

Doctors can treat and manage atrial fibrillation in a few ways. According to Dr. Lahiri, getting the condition under control typically involves three goals:

  1. Lower heart rate: AFib commonly causes the heart to beat too quickly. The first goal for treating the condition is to decrease your heartbeat to a safer pace. You can usually take rate control medications to dial down a racing heart.
  2. Restore heart rhythm: It’s also important to return the heart to its normal rhythm. This may be accomplished by taking rhythm control medications.
  3. Prevent stroke: Lowering your risk of stroke is an important goal for managing AFib. Depending on your health and overall risk, your doctor might recommend you take blood-thinning medications. Such medications lower the chances that blood clots will form.

Procedures For Treating AFib

In many cases, AFib medications can control the condition and reduce the risk of stroke. But some people can’t take the necessary medications due to existing health problems. And for others, the medications aren’t effective.

In such cases, doctors can turn to procedures to treat atrial fibrillation. They have several in their toolbox:

  • Catheter ablation:This procedure targets the heart tissue that is triggering the irregular heartbeat. As scar tissue develops in place of this tissue, the heart returns to its normal rhythm.
  • Left atrial appendage closure: In AFib, blood is more likely to pool in the heart’s upper left chamber, or atrium, where a small pouch is located. “That pouch doesn’t serve much of a functional purpose, but it’s the area where most blood clots form,” Dr. Lahiri says. A procedure to block that pouch from the rest of the heart can lower stroke risk.
  • Cardioversion: This procedure sends an electric shock to the heart. The goal is to interrupt the random beat and kickstart a normal rhythm.

AFib Treatment Trial And Error

It can take some time to land on the best way to treat your particular case of atrial fibrillation. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and our treatment approaches work differently from one person to the next,” Dr. Lahiri says.

Even after AFib is under control, it can sneak up again. “It can be a stubborn condition and keep coming back,” he says.

“Although it can take time to find the right treatment, it’s well worth the effort,” he adds. “There are all sorts of tools we can apply to treating AFib, and people can live well for years and years with this condition."


To find a cardiologist at Henry Ford or make an appointment, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

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Dr. Marc Lahiri is a cardiologist and electrophysiology specialist who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

Categories: FeelWell