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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 and rhythm.

  • Taking blood-thinning medicines (anticoagulants). These lower the risk for blood clot and stroke. Blood-thinners range from aspirin and clopidogrel to others such as rivaroxaban and warfarin.

  • Having a procedure such as left atrial appendage closure. In this procedure, a small pouch in the top of your atrium is blocked off. This pouch is where blood clots often form. The procedure can prevent blood clots and reduce stroke risk without the need for a blood thinner.

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

Your provider may advise other treatment choices.

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 healthcare provider to find the right medicines and doses for you.

  • Learn to take your own pulse. Keep a record of your results. Ask your provider which pulse rates mean that you need medical attention. Slowing your pulse is often the goal of treatment. Ask your provider 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 how much coffee, tea, cola, and other drinks with caffeine you have. Ask your provider if you should cut out all caffeine.

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

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

  • Ask your provider if  you can drink alcohol. Some people need to cut out 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 healthcare provider as advised.

When to call your healthcare provider

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

  • Weakness

  • Dizziness

  • Fainting

  • Tiredness (fatigue)

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain with increased activity

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

Online Medical Reviewer: Anne Clayton APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Steven Kang MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2022
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