What Treatment Options Are Available for Arrhythmias?

Some tachycardias are very brief or mild and do not pose a serious threat. Others require long-term treatment, and some are life-threatening. The treatment depends on the type of arrhythmia disorder — its frequency, duration, symptoms, and associated risks. Treatment decisions should also take into account any underlying heart conditions.

In very severe and life-threatening arrhythmias, emergency treatment to restore normal rhythm immediately may be done via electrical cardioversion from a defibrillator or through the use of intravenous drugs.

Medical Therapies for Long-Term Treatment

For less-severe conditions whose symptoms are bothersome, long-term treatment is needed. It usually involves the use of medications to stabilize the heartbeat. These may include:

  • Antiarrhythmic agents to maintain the heart’s normal rhythm
  • Beta-blockers to slow the heart rate
  • Calcium channel blockers to slow the heart rate and suppress tachycardias

Certain types of arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation, come with a high risk of stroke, and patients should also receive blood thinners.

Specialized Treatments for Arrhythmias

Specialized treatments have recently been developed to restore the heart’s normal rhythm and reduce the risks that accompany heart rhythm disorders. These include:

More About Defibrillators →
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD): This is a device which is inserted into the patient’s chest, like a pacemaker. ICDs are the treatment of choice for ventricular tachycardia; when an episode begins, the device delivers a shock to end the tachycardia. This prevents the heart from going into ventricular fibrillation, which is frequently fatal.
More About Catheter Ablation →
  • Cardiac catheter ablation: This specialized procedure is the treatment of choice for most supraventricular tachycardias, including atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter and Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. Also called radiofrequency ablation (RF ablation), it is increasingly being used today for ventricular tachycardia. This treatment involves the placement of tiny wires called catheters inside the heart, where they deliver high-energy waves that destroy the areas causing the abnormal rhythm, preventing further triggering of tachycardia.

    Heart doctors began using heat-based ablation to treat AF more than a decade ago, but new scientific evidence supports the use of cold ablation therapy for this condition as well.

If you believe you may be suffering from a heart rhythm disorder, speak to your doctor about visiting a cardiac electrophysiologist for more information, testing and treatment options including ablation therapy.

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Questions For Your Doctor

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