AFib is an irregular heart rhythm that affects almost 3 million Americans. It’s caused by a faulty electrical signal in your heart. In the human body, an electrical circuit is responsible for controlling and monitoring many bodily functions. If these electrical signals misfire or don’t work correctly, you may begin experiencing problematic signs and symptoms.
In the case of AFib, this electrical problem causes the heart to beat irregularly. Symptoms of AFib include lightheadedness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, and weakness. AFib can also occur without any symptoms, so it’s possible your condition can be undetected and undiagnosed.
How Is AFib Treated?
If not identified and treated correctly, AFib can increase your risk for blood clots. If these blood clots aren’t detected and treated or removed, they could travel through your body and into your brain. There, they can cause a stroke. Strokes can be debilitating, even deadly.
Treatments for AFib range from medications that thin blood to surgeries that remove blood clots. The most common type of treatment is an anticoagulant. This medicine is designed to thin your blood and reduce your risk of blood clots.
Medications That Treat AFib
To reduce your risk of clots and strokes, your doctor may prescribe anticoagulants. Anticoagulants come with a set of possible side effects and complications. Because of this, you need to be monitored regularly while you’re using it. If the dose is too small, you have an increased risk of stroke. If the dose is too high, the blood will be excessively thin. This increases your risk for excess bleeding if you’re ever injured.
Is Blood Monitoring Required?
Three main categories for blood-thinning medications are used today. The type of medicine you use determines how frequently you should be tested.
Common aspirin can be used to reduce your blood clot risk. That’s because aspirin, and medications similar to it, belong to a class of medications called antiplatelets. Antiplatelet medications help prevent blood clots from forming.
Since aspirin is available over-the-counter, doctors may first recommend it to patients as a preventative measure. However, don’t begin taking aspirin without your doctor’s instruction.
Warfarin (brand names: Coumadin and Jantoven) has been used for decades and is still commonly prescribed today. However, it’s a very powerful medicine, and patients who use it are at an increased risk of dangerous bleeding.
Newer and safer prescription anticoagulant medicines, including dabigatran (Pradaxa), rivaroxaban (Xarelto), and apixaban (Eliquis), aren’t as long acting as warfarin. They don’t carry the same bleeding risk as warfarin either. For that reason, you don’t need frequent monitoring if you use one of these medicines to control your clot risk. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not powerful medications. In order to prevent dangerous side effects, these medicines should be taken exactly as prescribed.
What Type of Blood Monitoring Is Required for AFib Medications?
If you use warfarin to control your blood-clotting risks, you’ll need to maintain regular appointments with your doctor. The goal of warfarin is to keep your blood’s clotting capabilities at a healthy level. If your blood clots too much, the warfarin isn’t working. If the blood clots too little, you’re at risk for a dangerous bleeding problem. To make sure your clotting level is safe, your doctor will want to regularly draw your blood to check its clotting capabilities. Based on the results, you may need to take more or less of the medicine to maintain the clotting balance.
Talk with Your Doctor
If you have been diagnosed with AFib, talk with your doctor. It’s important to understand the risks of taking AFib medicines, as well as the testing requirements you’ll need to fulfill.
For some people, the constant monitoring is too consuming and difficult to handle. For others, it’s a minor inconvenience to help control a larger problem. Together with your doctor, you can find a treatment solution that helps you control your AFib and lead a healthy, normal life.