To stop atrial fibrillation, a doctor may need to reset the heart's rhythm back to normal through a process known as cardioversion, and certain surgical procedures may be recommended in some cases, according to Mayo Clinic. Acute episodes of atrial fibrillation sometimes go away on their own.
Depending on the underlying cause, cardioversion may be performed using medications or an electric shock, states Mayo Clinic. The former method involves the use of oral or intravenous anti-arrhythmic drugs in a hospital setting to restore normal heart rhythm, and the latter involves shocking the heart through patches or paddles placed on the chest to momentarily stop the heart's electrical signals. The latter procedure is performed while the patient is sedated. Patients may need to take blood-thinning medications for several weeks before the procedure is performed.
To maintain a normal heart rhythm after the procedure, patients may need to take anti-arrhythmic medications, such as propafenone and dofetilide, notes Mayo Clinic. They may also need to take digoxin to control resting heart rate. If cardioversion is unsuccessful, patients may need to undergo surgery. A catheter ablation is sometimes performed to eliminate hot spots that trigger the abnormal rhythm, or a surgical maze procedure may be done during open heart surgery to create scar tissue in the upper chambers due to scar tissue's inability to transmit electrical signals. An atrioventricular node ablation is another option; it involves destroying the pathway between the upper and lower chambers of the heart.