If your doctor thinks an arrhythmia is clinically significant, he or she will prescribe a treatment plan that will hopefully reduce the condition's symptoms and severity, as well as decrease the risk of it becoming worse or more dangerous.
Many arrhythmias are considered harmless and do not require treatment. And for those arrhythmias that do, the least invasive treatment that also corrects the source of trouble is preferred. Here are a few possible treatments to control arrhythmias:
Medication to Regulate Heart Rhythm
Your doctor may prescribe a medicine that can control your abnormal heart rhythm. These meds are called antiarrhythmics. They do not fix or correct the underlying problem, but they are effective at reducing arrhythmic episodes. Beta blockers and calcium channel blockers are used to slow the heart rate in people with some tachycardias, such as atrial fibrillation. Learn more about drugs that control arrhythmias.
Medication to Treat Related Conditions
If you have high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart failure, or any condition that puts you at greater risk for arrhythmia or causes your arrhythmia, your doctor may prescribe a medicine to treat this underlying cause.
These medicines reduce the risk of blood clots and potential stroke. People with atrial fibrillation often use anticoagulants because they are at a greater risk of blood pooling and clotting. Blood thinners are also used. Learn more about anticoagulants.
If your doctor determines that your arrhythmia begins in the upper half of your heart (the atria) and includes fibrillating (quivering), he or she may want to use cardioversion—an electric shock treatment that resets a heart's rhythm. This treatment is noninvasive and painless, though you may be a given a sedative to help you relax.
A thin, flexible tube (called a catheter) is directed into your heart through your arm, groin, or neck with the help of a special X-ray. Once there, the catheter delivers a burst of radiofrequency that destroys very small areas of tissue and muscle where your doctor believes your arrhythmia begins.
Pacemakers regulate bradycardias (slow heart rates). These battery-powered devices are placed under the skin of the chest or abdomen. Some pacemakers work continuously to ensure your heart beats at a normal rate. Others monitor your heart rate and turn on only if your heart rate slows too much.
Implanted Cardioverter Defibrillators (ICDs)
These devices are highly effective at stopping life-threatening arrhythmias in the lower half of the heart, such as ventricular tachycardia or ventricle fibrillation. (Implantable defibrillators that treat arrhythmias in the upper half of the heart, such as atrial fibrillation, are also available.) ICDs continuously monitor your heart rate. If it dips too low, the ICD acts as a pacemaker to restore a normal, healthy rhythm. If your heart rate goes too fast, it sends out shocks of energy to reset the natural rhythm.
Surgery can treat underlying causes of arrhythmia, such as coronary artery disease and heart failure. If a doctor is performing a surgery for one of these conditions, he or she might also do something called the maze procedure—making small cuts or burns in the atria to prevent your heart from sending erroneous electrical signals that may be causing your arrhythmia.
If the cause of your arrhythmia is an aneurysm in or near your heart, a ventricular aneurysm surgery may be performed to remove the aneurysm.
If your coronary artery disease is in an advanced stage and you have frequent ventricular tachycardia—a very life-threatening arrhythmia—you may undergo coronary bypass surgery. This surgery will improve your heart's blood supply and hopefully reduce the frequency of arrhythmia.