HealthSheets™


Discharge Instructions for Atrial Fibrillation

You have been diagnosed with an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation (AFib). This means your heart’s 2 upper chambers quiver rather than squeeze the blood out in a normal pattern. This leads to an irregular and sometimes rapid heartbeat. Some people will have symptoms such as a flip-flopping heartbeat, chest pain, lightheadedness, or shortness of breath. Other people may have no symptoms at all. AFib is serious because it affects the heart’s ability to fill with blood as it should. Blood clots may form. This increases the risk for stroke. Untreated, it can also lead to heart failure. AFib can be controlled. With treatment, most people lead normal lives.

Treatment options

Treatment for AFib depends on your age, symptoms, how long you have had it, and other factors. You will have a complete evaluation to find out if you have any abnormalities that caused your heart to go into AFib. This might be blocked heart arteries, heart valve problems, or a thyroid problem. Your doctor will assess your case and discuss choices with you.

Treatment choices may include:

  • Treating an underlying disorder that puts you at risk for atrial fibrillation. For example, correcting an abnormal thyroid or electrolyte problem, or treating a blocked heart artery.

  • Restoring a normal heart rhythm with an electrical shock (cardioversion) or with an antiarrhythmic medicine (chemical cardioversion)

  • Using medicine to control your heart rate

  • Preventing the risk for blood clot and stroke using blood-thinning medicines, such as aspirin or clopidogrel.

  • Preventing the risk of blood clot and stroke with procedures such as left atrial appendage closure. In this procedure, a small pouch in the top of your atrium where blood clots often form is blocked off. It can prevent blood clots and reduce stroke risk without the need for lifelong blood thinner (anticoagulants).

  • Doing catheter ablation or a surgical maze procedure. These procedures use different methods to create scar tissue in certain areas of heart. This interrupts the abnormal electrical signals that cause AFib. This may be an option when medicines don't work, or instead of long-term medicine.

  • Other treatment choices may be recommended for you by your doctor.

Managing risk factors for stroke and preventing heart failure are important parts of any treatment plan for AFib.

Home care

  • Take your medicines exactly as directed. Don’t skip doses.

  • Work with your doctor to find the right medicines and doses for you.

  • Learn to take your own pulse. Keep a record of your results. Ask your doctor which pulse rates mean that you need medical attention. Slowing your pulse is often the goal of treatment. Ask your doctor if it’s OK for you to use an automatic machine to check your pulse at home. Sometimes these machines don’t count the pulse correctly with AFib.

  • Limit your intake of coffee, tea, cola, and other drinks with caffeine. Talk with your doctor about whether you should cut out caffeine.

  • Don't take over-the-counter medicines that have caffeine in them. Also avoid medicines with pseudoephedrine.

  • Let your doctor know what medicines you take, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, as well as any supplements. They interfere with some medicines given for AFib.

  • Ask your doctor about whether you can drink alcohol. Some people need to avoid alcohol to better treat AFib. If you are taking blood-thinner medicines, alcohol may interfere with them by increasing their effect.

  • Never take stimulants such as amphetamines or cocaine. These drugs can speed up your heart rate and trigger AFib.

  • Manage your weight. If you are above your ideal body weight, losing excess pounds can reduce your incidence of AFib.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your doctor, or as advised.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Weakness

  • Dizziness

  • Fainting

  • Fatigue

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain with increased activity

  • A change in the usual regularity of your heartbeat, or an unusually fast heartbeat

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