How Medications Treat Arrhythmia
Drugs aren't an ideal solution to an irregular heartbeat.
Treating an arrhythmia with medication is like putting out a campfire with a squirt gun. Drugs can control abnormal heartbeats and the fainting, light-headedness, and breathlessness that can go along with them, but they merely dent the problem, says Dan Roden, MD, a professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. "Medications don't work as well as we'd like, and many have side effects ranging from fatigue to organ damage," he says. Still, some of the medications are used to manage arrhythmia. Here's an overview.
- Blood thinners such as Coumadin can help prevent the blood clots that result from atrial fibrillation.
- Anti-arrhythmic drugs such as Betapace and Cordarone can encourage a normal rhythm in the heart. Unfortunately Cordarone may cause many side effects ranging from fatigue to uncontrollable tremor to liver and lung disease. Doctors typically don't prescribe it unless other medications have failed.
- Beta-blockers such as Coreg and Lopressor can slow the heart rate in patients with atrial fibrillation.
- Calcium channel blockers such as Cardizem and Norvasc also help slow the rate and are especially effective for treating tachycardias.