Medications for Heart Rhythm Disorders: Safety and Risks

There are many different types of heart rhythm disorders and many different medications that can be used to treat them. After diagnosing a heart rhythm disorder, your doctor will formulate a treatment plan that fits your individual situation. Treatment could range from simply monitoring a slight arrhythmia for changes to prescribing medications or recommending a surgical procedure or implantable device. 

If your treatment plan includes medication, it is important for you to understand the safety and risks of medications for heart rhythm disorders. Generally, medications prescribed for arrhythmias fall into two main categories: anti-coagulants and antiarrhythmics. 

Safety of anti-coagulants

Anti-coagulants are often prescribed for patients with atrial fibrillation due to the increased risk of stroke, as blood can pool in the chambers of the heart and result in clots. Anti-coagulants, also called blood thinners, prevent the clots from forming and lower the risk of stroke. These medications have been extensively studied and are considered safe, though every medication comes with some precautions

The blood thinning effect that prevents clots from forming also creates a risk of increased bruising and bleeding. Patients should take extra precaution to prevent falls and other injuries. In the event of injury, patients taking anti-coagulants need to be aware of the risk of bleeding both internally and externally and should seek medical attention if concerned about internal bleeding. The effectiveness of some anti-coagulants can be impacted by the foods you eat, so talk with your doctor about any specific dietary guidelines that may apply for your situation. 

Safety of antiarrhythmics

The other type of medication used to treat heart rhythm disorders are known as antiarrhythmics. The goal of prescribing this type of medication is to make arrhythmias less frequent or less intense. In some cases, they can stop the arrhythmia completely. 

The broad category of antiarrhythmics includes several different types of medications such as sodium-channel blockers, beta blockers, potassium-channel blockers, and calcium-channel blockers. Each type of medication targets different problems, and your doctor will choose the best one for your specific arrhythmia to help reduce irregular heartbeat symptoms. 

These medications are prescribed because they are effective and powerful at controlling heart rhythm disorders. However, they do come with risk of side effects, including some that can be serious. Your doctor will work with you to monitor your symptoms and side effects and adjust your medication as needed. 

Depending on the medicine, side effects can include gastrointestinal upset, dizziness, sun sensitivity, or more serious side effects such as leg and feet swelling and retaining urine. As you begin a new medicine, be cautious in daily activities, such as refraining from driving until you know the medicine is not causing dizziness or using daily sunscreen and reducing your sun exposure. 

One serious side effect your doctor will watch for is your antiarrhythmic drug becoming a proarrhythmic drug. This happens when instead of lessening an irregular heartbeat, a drug makes it worse or even creates a new irregular heartbeat that could be more severe. Not all antiarrhythmic drugs have this side effect, and your doctor will monitor you closely if prescribing one that does. 

Communication with your doctor is key when taking medication for heart rhythm disorders. If you have any questions or concerns, discuss them with your doctor. Since these medications have potentially serious side effects, it is important to take them as prescribed and inform your doctor of any other medications, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. Before you stop taking them, consult your doctor to be sure it is safe to do so. 

If you have been diagnosed with a heart rhythm disorder or suspect you may have one, contact Oklahoma Heart Hospital today to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists in the Heart Rhythm Institute.