Medications for AF

atrial fibrillation medications

Medications for Atrial Fibrillation 

Your doctor is most likely to prescribe a medication as the first course of action to manage your AF. There are two main types of medication: rate control and rhythm control medication.1,2,3

Rate control medication is used to slow your heart rate to less than 100 beats per minute. It works by blocking the electrical signals that are being incorrectly made by the atria. Two common types of rate control medications are beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers:1,2,3

  • Beta blockers: Beta-blockers slow your heart rate, relax your blood vessels, and make it easier for your heart to pump blood. However, there are a number of common side effects, such as dizziness and fatigue.

  • Calcium channel blockers: These medicines work by interrupting the movement of calcium into your heart and blood vessels to slow your heart rate. Potential side effects of these drugs include light-headedness.

Rhythm control medication is generally used when rate control medication is not successful and works to restore your heart's normal rhythm. Rhythm control medication may also be referred to as "drug cardioversion" or “chemical cardioversion”. Two key rhythm control medications are sodium channel blockers and anticoagulants:1,2,3

  • Sodium channel blockers: These work by slowing the electrical conductivity of your heart to improve rhythm problems. These drugs are associated with a number of possible side effects, such as nausea and abdominal pain. Some patients are also at risk of developing allergic reactions with symptoms like rash.

  • Anticoagulants: These drugs, also commonly known as blood thinners, are often prescribed to help reduce your risk of stroke by preventing blood clots from forming inside your heart. The downside however is that they can prevent your blood from clotting at times when you need it to clot, like when you cut yourself. If you are prescribed an anticoagulant, you should therefore take extra precaution with your daily activities to avoid possible complications associated with cuts or minor abrasions. You will also be informed by your doctor that anticoagulants can also have very serious and life-threatening side effects, such as internal bleeding and stomach ulcers.




1. Kirchhof P, Benussi S, Kotecha D, Ahlsson A, Atar D et al. (2016) 2016 ESC Guidelines for the management of atrial fibrillation developed in collaboration with EACTS. Eur Heart J 37 (38): 2893-2962. 2. AF Association, 3. American Heart Association,

Disclaimer: The information featured here is not intended as medical advice, or to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. Please talk to your doctor if you have any questions.

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