What are the treatments?
Treatment for arrhythmias depends on the type and level of severity. Some arrhythmias do not require treatment at all, while others require treatment to save your life. Treatment may include one or more of the
following lifestyle changes, medications, or medical procedures.
Avoid activities, such as smoking and the use of tobacco in any form, limit alcohol intake, limit or stop using caffeine (such as coffee, tea, and soft drinks), that seem to bring on symptoms. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. Do not use over-the-counter products that contain caffeine, and avoid stimulants that may be found in cold or cough remedies. Some herbal remedies may also cause arrhythmias. Consult a pharmacist or your cardiologist if in doubt about whether or not you should use a particular product. Follow a healthy diet and exercise by walking 20 to 30 minutes at least three to four times a week. If you have not exercised for a long time, ask your cardiologist before beginning a new exercise program. If you are experiencing severe stress or anger it can affect your heart. Try to create more quiet time for yourself, try relaxation techniques, meditation or prayer. For some individuals, support from family and friends or a therapist really helps. If you need assistance with this, your cardiologist can guide you to resources.
Often, antiarrhythmic medications will be used to return the heart rhythm to normal and to prevent a recurrence of the problem. The medications will work to correct the electrical signals within the heart. Other drugs reduce the number of atrial impulses, thus slowing the heart rate. Some of the common types of medications used include beta blockers, calcium channel clockers and digoxin. Those who have atrial fibrillation may also be prescribed blood thinners. Although very effective, many antiarrhythmic drugs have side effects that may include fatigue, nausea, dizziness and headache. Sometimes, they may even cause dangerous (or a different type of) arrhythmia. Medication is not viable to treat slow heart rates.
This procedure is used to ablate (destroy) very specific abnormal electrical pathways in the heart (that cause abnormal heart rhythms). Ablation occurs when the cardiologist inserts a catheter with electrodes into the heart near the abnormal pathway. Radio-frequency energy is then passed through the catheter into the area. The tip of the catheter heats up and destroys the small area that is causing problems. It is a relatively low‐risk procedure with huge benefits and works especially well when the abnormality is in the atrial area of the heart.
A cardiac pacemaker is a small device that is inserted under the muscle of the chest with wires that run directly into the heart. It serves to literally pace the heart and stimulate heartbeats with an electrical impulse. It is especially helpful for people whose hearts are beating too slowly. Pacemakers are smart and programmed to sense when the pulse rate is too slow, then delivering an electrical stimulus as needed to stimulate the heart to beat.
Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICDs)
Similar to a pacemaker, this device is inserted under the muscle of the chest and is prescribed for those whose heart beats abnormally fast. It continuously monitors the heart’s rate, and when the rate is out of control, it delivers an impulse, or tiny shock, to force the heart back into a normal rhythm. ICDs are especially important for those who have had a cardiac arrest or who have a serious problem that could lead to cardiac arrest.
This is a procedure to stop an arrhythmia. An electrical shock is given to the heart through the chest wall, which causes the heart cells to fire impulses all at once, thereby allowing a normal rate to return. After this treatment, an arrhythmia may return, so medication or other treatments may be prescribed to prevent additional episodes.
Cardiologists may recommend heart surgery in some cases to treat arrhythmias that are caused by another heart issue (such as a heart valve that needs repair or by-pass surgery to correct a blockage).