Answers to Common Atrial Fibrillation (A-Fib) Questions

Premier Health doctors answer frequently asked questions about atrial fibrillation.

What is atrial fibrillation (A Fib)?

Premier Health’s Dr. Kevin Kravitz explains atrial fibrillation (A Fib). Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Atrial fibrillation (also called atrial flutter or A Fib) is the most common type of irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia). Atrial fibrillation happens when disorganized electrical signals cause the upper chambers of the heart (atria) to contract so quickly that they are no longer truly beating but rather quivering. Normally, the sinoatrial (SA) node sends an electrical signal 60 to 100 times per minute, resulting in a normal heart rhythm of 60 to 100 beats per minute. During A Fib, however, the SA node sends signals much more frequently and/or irregularly, resulting in a heart rate of 100 to 175 beats per minute.

You can see the difference between a normal heart rhythm and atrial fibrillation in this videoOff Site Icon from the American Heart AssociationOff Site Icon (AHA).

As the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood InstituteOff Site Icon (NHLBI) explains, during atrial fibrillation, the atria are beating so quickly that blood is not effectively pumped into the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). As a result:

  • Blood pools in the atria, increasing the risk of blood clot and stroke
  • The atria and ventricles beat out of sync
  • The ventricles begin to beat very quickly

Because the ventricles are not properly filled with blood, blood flow to the rest of the body may also be impaired.

To learn more about atrial fibrillation please speak with your health care provider.

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Is atrial fibrillation (A Fib) a common problem?

Premier Health’s Dr. Mark Krebs talks about atrial fibrillation (A Fib), a common heart arrhythmia in the US and worldwide. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

According to the Heart Rhythm SocietyOff Site Icon (HRS), atrial fibrillation (A Fib) is “the most common sustained heart rhythm disorder.” A Global Burden of Disease 2010 Study, published in the American Heart AssociationOff Site Iconjournal—CirculationOff Site Icon—reported that 33.5 million people around the world have (diagnosed) atrial fibrillation. In the United States,

  • 3 million people have (diagnosed) atrial fibrillation (as of 2005)
  • 8 million people are estimated to be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation by 2050

The National Center for Biotechnology Information lists a growing aging population and better diagnostic tools as the main reasons for the expected increase of atrial fibrillation in the American population.

Speak to your health care provider to learn more about the prevalence of atrial fibrillation.

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What is important for those with atrial fibrillation (A Fib) to know?

Premier Health’s Dr. Mark Krebs gives a message of hope to those with atrial fibrillation (A Fib). Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood InstituteOff Site Icon (NHLBI) outlines three types of atrial fibrillation:

  • Paroxysmal A Fib occurs intermittently and often stops spontaneously. Paroxysmal A Fib usually lasts less than 24 hours.
  • Persistent A Fib continues for more than a week but may also stop spontaneously or be stopped by treatment.
  • Permanent A Fib is a permanent condition; a normal heart rhythm cannot be restored even with treatment.

Paroxysmal and persistent A Fib may lead to permanent A Fib, so it is important to seek treatment early. However, as Dr. Krebs points out, advances in electrophysiology allow more arrhythmias to be treated, even atrial fibrillations that were considered untreatable five to ten years ago.

According to the American Heart AssociationOff Site Icon (AHA), treatment for atrial fibrillation ranges from:

  • Lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and quitting smoking
  • Medication, including beta blockers, calcium channel blockers or medications to manage underlying causes, such as hyperthyroidism, or other health risks, such as stroke

In addition to these non-invasive treatment methods, NHLBI outlines surgical procedures that may restore a normal heart rhythm:

  • Electrical cardioversion
  • Catheter ablation
  • Pacemaker implantation
  • Maze (open-heart) surgery

Identifying the cause of A Fib can help your doctor find the best treatment for you.

Talk to your health care provider to learn more about atrial fibrillation treatment options.

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Can someone have atrial fibrillation (A Fib) and not know it?

Premier Health’s Dr. Mark Krebs explains if someone can have atrial fibrillation (A Fib) without knowing it. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

The American Heart AssociationOff Site Icon (AHA) has collected a number of patient testimonials about their experience with atrial fibrillation. One patient reports: “I had no symptoms at all. I discovered my AF at a regular check-up. I’m glad we found it early.”

It is not uncommon for someone with atrial fibrillation to be asymptomatic. A 2005 Atrial Fibrillation Follow-up Investigation of Rhythm Management (AFFIRM) study compared patients with atrial fibrillation who were asymptomatic and those who experienced a variety of symptoms. Of the total 4,060 patients in the study, 12% (481 patients) experienced no symptoms.

Because atrial fibrillation can be asymptomatic, it is especially important for those at higher risk for A Fib to get regular checkups.

To learn more about atrial fibrillation, speak with your health care provider. 

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How is atrial fibrillation (A Fib) diagnosed without symptoms?

Premier Health’s Dr. Mark Krebs explains how atrial fibrillation (A Fib) is diagnosed when symptoms are not present. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

According to the 2005 Atrial Fibrillation Follow-up Investigation of Rhythm Management (AFFIRM) study, 12% of the study population experienced no symptoms of atrial fibrillation (A Fib). Because no symptoms prompt a doctor visit, people with asymptomatic A Fib are diagnosed by chance, if they are diagnosed at all. In other words, their healthcare provider finds the abnormal heart rhythm during a routine check-up or during a visit for other complaints.

Once the arrhythmia is discovered or suspected, the healthcare provider may refer you to a specialist for further testing. Diagnostic tests that confirm atrial fibrillation include:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG)—electrodes are placed on the skin to record the heart’s electrical activity
  • Holter monitoring—a patient wears a Holter monitor, a portable ECG device, that records heart activity for 24 to 48 hours
  • Event recording—a patient wears an event recorder, which is similar to a Holter monitor but is worn for a longer period of time and automatically activates when an arrhythmic episode begins (Event recording is necessary for patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation who experience intermittent abnormal heart rhythms.)

Because asymptomatic atrial fibrillation may only be discovered during an exam, it is important to get regular checkups.

Ask your health care provider about atrial fibrillation at your next routine physical. 

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Does having atrial fibrillation (A Fib) increase the risk of stroke?

Premier Health’s Dr. Mark Krebs explains the link between atrial fibrillation (A Fib) and stroke risk. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

While intermittent (paroxysmal) atrial fibrillation (A Fib) itself is not harmful, the heart’s compromised ability to pump blood presents serious health risks, including a significant increased risk for stroke.

During atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart (atria) beat so fast (between 100 and 300 times per minute) that they are quivering. The muscle does not fully contract, so blood is not effectively pumped from the atria to the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). As a result, blood pools in the atria, allowing clots to form. If a clot breaks off, it may travel to other parts of the body.

As Dr. Krebs explains, because 50% of the blood flow goes to the head, a blood clot in the brain is likely. When a blood clot deprives the brain of oxygen, a stroke occurs and may cause permanent damage, including:

  • Loss of vision
  • Loss of motor function
  • Loss of cognitive function (e.g. memory, information processing)
  • Loss of speech

According to StopAfib.orgOff Site Icon, the risk of stroke increases five-fold for people with atrial fibrillation. StopAfib.org also reports that 1/3 of patients with atrial fibrillation will actually experience a stroke. Other studies show that the prognosis for people with A Fib who suffer a stroke are poor; patients are more likely to suffer long-term disability and require constant nursing care. To learn more about reducing the risk of A Fib-related stroke speak with your health care provider, and ask if a left atrial appendage closure (LAAC) with the WATCHMAN device, is right for you. 

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How can I avoid an atrial fibrillation (A Fib) episode?

Premier Health’s Dr. Kevin Kravitz discusses how to avoid an atrial fibrillation (A Fib) episode. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Atrial fibrillation (A Fib) is an abnormal heart rhythm caused by disorganized electrical signals that originate in the upper chambers of the heart (atria). For some people, atrial fibrillation is persistent or permanent. For others, symptoms like heart palpitations, shortness of breath and dizziness may be intermittent. Unfortunately, there is no way to accurately predict when these symptoms may occur or completely prevent an episode.

However, there are some known triggers that may be avoided to decrease the likelihood of an atrial fibrillation episode. These triggers include:

  • Stimulants, including caffeine and some decongestants
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Stress

Lifestyle changes that minimize these triggers can be very effective in reducing symptoms of atrial fibrillation for some people. If these lifestyle changes do not provide enough relief from A Fib symptoms, your doctor may prescribe medications to address your heart rate, heart rhythm or underlying conditions that may be causing atrial fibrillation. Surgical procedures may also be recommended to cure the arrhythmia or significantly decrease episodes and symptoms.

Speak with your health care provider to learn about options to manage your atrial fibrillation.

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I have A Fib. What should I do when my heart begins to race?

Premier Health’s Dr. Mark Krebs gives advice to patients with atrial fibrillation (A Fib) when their hearts race. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

For some patients with atrial fibrillation, symptoms are intermittent. Because symptoms may come and go without intervention, people may think they are not serious. However, it is not always safe to assume that symptoms will dissipate on their own.

As Dr. Krebs advises, people who have been experiencing a racing heartbeat—a pulse of 120 beats (or more) per minute—for more than one hour should contact their doctor or go to the emergency room. Atrial fibrillation that continues for a sustained period of time deprives your entire body of oxygen, contributing to conditions like chronic fatigue and sleep apnea as well as raising your risks for life-threatening events like congestive heart failure and stroke. It is vital that a person get the medication and/or interventions they need to restore a normal heart rhythm.

People with atrial fibrillation should also seek immediate medical care if they experience:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms
  • Pressure or fullness in the jaw, neck and/or upper back
  • Numbness or weakness in the face or one side of the body
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Sudden loss of vision
  • Sudden severe headache

These symptoms often precede a heart attack or stroke, and immediate intervention is essential to minimizing long-term damage.

For more information about symptoms of atrial fibrillation, talk with your health care provider. 

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How can I handle the symptoms of atrial fibrillation (A Fib) without letting fear control my life?

Premier Health’s Dr. Kevin Kravitz provides some advice about coping with atrial fibrillation. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

The symptoms of atrial fibrillation (A Fib) can be concerning—racing heartbeat, dizziness, shortness of breath, etc. However, people with atrial fibrillation can take comfort in knowing that the condition and its symptoms by themselves are not life threatening. In fact, AFib MattersOff Site Icon and National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood InstituteOff Site Icon (NHLBI) agree that most people with atrial fibrillation, even permanent A Fib, can lead normal active lives.

For many people, lifestyle changes and healthy habits can make a big difference in managing atrial fibrillation episodes, symptoms and risks. A healthy diet and moderate exercise can help prevent or address obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure—common risk factors for developing a heart arrhythmia. Limiting caffeine and alcohol and managing stress may also reduce A Fib episodes and/or intensity of symptoms.

To best handle symptoms, people living with atrial fibrillation should also:

  • Have routine checkups with their healthcare provider
  • Keep your physician (including emergency room staff) informed of all medications you are taking
  • Call your doctor if you experience any side effects and/or interactions between medications
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter medications and/or nutritional supplements

People with atrial fibrillation who are also taking medications (blood thinners) for stroke prevention may also need regular blood tests.

People with atrial fibrillation who are also taking blood thinners for stroke prevention may also need regular blood tests. 

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How is atrial fibrillation (A Fib) treated?

Premier Health’s Dr. Kevin Kravitz talks about how atrial fibrillation (A Fib) is treated. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

When it comes to treating atrial fibrillation (A Fib), both the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood InstituteOff Site Icon (NHLBI) and the American Heart AssociationOff Site Icon (AHA) agree that the goals of treatment are:

  • Preventing blood clots and managing other risk factors for stroke
  • Rate control—reducing the number of times per minute the ventricles contract
  • Rhythm control—restoring a normal heart rhythm (in the atria and ventricles)
  • Treating any underlying condition that contributes to atrial fibrillation, such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes

Doctors may use medications to prevent blood clots and to lower the heart rate. Common blood thinners for stroke prevention include aspirin, heparin and warfarin. Medications used for rate control include beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and digitalis.

Doctors may recommend surgical procedures to treat patients who have recently experienced atrial fibrillation and/or those who do not respond well to rate control medications. Procedures commonly used to treat (and often cure) atrial fibrillation include:

  • Cardioversion—delivering brief electric shocks to the heart to interrupt an arrhythmia and restore a normal heart rhythm
  • Catheter ablation—threading a catheter to specific locations on the heart to destroy (by radiofrequency or cryotherapy) areas responsible for the arrhythmia

For some patients, a pacemaker may need to be implanted following ablation to maintain a normal heart rhythm.

Atrial fibrillation may be caused or exacerbated by other conditions. To manage those health conditions and/or reduce risks, doctors may also recommend lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Reducing caffeine and/or salt intake
  • Managing stress
  • Exercising
  • Eating a balanced diet

Speak with your health care provider to learn more about atrial fibrillation treatment options.

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If using medication is not enough to manage atrial fibrillation (A Fib), what are other options?

Premier Health’s Dr. Abdul Wase talks about alternatives to medication to manage atrial fibrillation (A Fib). Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

When symptoms of atrial fibrillation (A Fib) persist even on medication for heart rate and/or rhythm control, your doctor may recommend a procedure to restore a normal heart rhythm. There are two main types of procedures used to treat atrial fibrillation:

  • Cardioversion
  • Catheter ablation

In cardioversion, controlled electric shocks are delivered to the heart via electrodes placed on the skin. The shocks delivered are strong enough to interrupt the arrhythmia and allow the sinoatrial (SA) node to restore a normal heart rhythm.

Cardioversion has a limited success rate. According to AFib MattersOff Site Icon, cardioversion does not work for one in ten patients, and atrial fibrillation returns within one year for 50% of patients for whom cardioversion was initially successful. While the procedure may be repeated, doctors will more likely recommend a different procedure—catheter ablation—to address A Fib.

In catheter ablation, small tubes are carefully threaded through a vein (usually in the groin) to the heart. Electrodes at the end of the tubes are placed on specific sites on the heart muscle that have been identified as causing the arrhythmia. (Errant electrical signals that cause atrial fibrillation are most often traced to sites near the pulmonary veins.) The electrodes deliver either radiofrequency energy or cryoenergy to burn or freeze the heart tissue, creating a scar that isolates the erratic electrical signals, thereby allowing the SA node to restore a normal heart rhythm.

For some patients, the catheter ablation procedure may also be used to destroy the atrioventricular (AV) node, which controls the electrical signals sent to the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). A pacemaker must then be implanted to restore electrical conduction from the atria to the ventricles.

According to StopAfib.orgOff Site Icon, the outcomes of catheter ablation may also be achieved through open-heart procedures called the Cox Maze III or the Maze procedure. However, because advances in technology now allow A Fib to be treated with minimally invasive means with reduced risk of surgical complications and allow quicker recovery time, these procedures are done less frequently.

Speak with your health care provider to learn more about your atrial fibrillation treatment options.

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What is ablation?

Premier Health’s Dr. Abdul Wase explains the ablation procedure. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

For some people with atrial fibrillation (A Fib) lifestyle changes and/or medication are not enough to control the rapid heart rate. In these cases, doctors may recommend a surgical procedure called catheter ablation to treat the arrhythmia. According to the American Heart AssociationOff Site Icon (AHA), catheter ablation successfully cures atrial fibrillation (or other arrhythmia) in 90% of patients.

The American Heart Association describes catheter ablation as a procedure that “destroy[s] a small area of heart tissue that is causing rapid and irregular heartbeats.” During the procedure, an electrophysiologist applies radiofrequency energy to burn or cryotherapy to freeze the tissue triggering the irregular heart rhythm. Typically, the area affected is only about 1/5 of an inch in diameter.

The ablation procedure is minimally invasive. Patients receive local anesthetic at the site where catheters are inserted in the groin (sometimes neck or arms). These small tubes are threaded through the veins to specific locations on the heart. Once at their destination, the catheters may be used to deliver electric signals for further testing or apply radiofrequencies or liquid nitrogen to destroy heart muscle tissue.

According to the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood InstituteOff Site Icon (NHLBI), some ablation procedures are used to destroy the atrioventricular (AV) node, effectively shutting down all electrical signals from the upper chambers of the heart (atria) to the lower chambers (ventricles). When this is done, the electrophysiologist may also implant a pacemaker to regulate the heart rhythm.

Speak with your health care provider to learn more about cardiac ablation.

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What is Stereotaxis?

Premier Health’s Dr. Mark Krebs explains Stereotaxis. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Catheter ablation is a procedure performed by electrophysiologists to treat and cure arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation (A Fib). In this procedure, small tubes are guided through the veins from the insertion point in a patient’s groin (sometimes neck or arms) to specific locations on the heart. Conventionally, catheters are guided using X-rays. As Dr. Krebs explains, Stereotaxis is a magnetically driven robotic system used to for catheter ablation procedures.

Stereotaxis, Inc.Off Site Icon, the manufacturer of the system, explain the features and benefits of this advanced technology.

  • The softer catheters minimize the risk of damage to thin, fragile heart tissue.
  • The magnetic navigation procedure minimizes the patient’s exposure to radiation and allows the surgeon a greater level of precision.

The increased precision and accuracy of the Stereotaxis magnetic navigation system improves patient safety during the procedure. This advanced technology allows electrophysiologists to treat arrhythmias that may have been considered incurable just a few years ago.

To learn more about the Stereotaxis magnetic navigation system, talk with your health care provider.

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What heart arrhythmias may be treated with Stereotaxis technology?

Premier Health’s Dr. Mark Krebs discusses abnormal heart rhythms that may be treated with Stereotaxis technology. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

StereotaxisOff Site Icon is a magnetically driven robotic system used to perform cardiac ablation. Hence, this technology can effectively treat any abnormal heart rhythm for which cardiac ablation is indicated. Currently, cardiac ablation is very successful in curing arrhythmias that result from a “short circuit” in the heart that sends impulses to contract more frequently, resulting in a faster (and sometimes irregular) heart rate. These arrhythmias include:

  • Supraventricular tachycardia
    In this type of arrhythmia, the short circuit occurs above the ventricles—i.e. in the atria (upper chambers of the heart). Johns Hopkins Medicine [Link to http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/ in a new window with off site icon and 3rd party content disclaimer] classifies three types of supraventricular tachycardia:
    • Atrial flutter results from a single short circuit in the atria. While the atria contract more frequently, the rate of the ventricles remains normal.
    • Atrial fibrillation results from multiple short circuits in the atria. The number of electrical impulses overwhelm the atrioventricular node, resulting in the loss of coordination between atria and ventricles.
    • Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia is usually caused by an additional connection (accessory pathway) between the atria and ventricles, allowing electrical signals to travel in a circular pattern, multiplying the number of signals the heart muscle receives to contract.
  • Ventricular tachycardia
    In this type of arrhythmia, the short circuit occurs in the ventricles, disrupting the electrical signals originating from the sinoatrial (SA) node, the heart’s natural pacemaker.

Atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation may be treated with Stereotaxis (cardiac ablation) alone. However, abnormal heart rhythms that require destroying the atrioventricular node to isolate errant electrical signals usually necessitate the implantation of a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillation (ICD) to maintain a normal heart rhythm.

Speak with your health care provider to find out if your heart arrhythmia can be treated with Stereotaxis.

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What advantages does Stereotaxis offer in the treatment of heart rhythm disorders?

Premier Health’s Dr. Mark Krebs discusses the advantages of Stereotaxis. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

As Dr. Krebs explains, “Stereotaxis is a robotic system driven by magnets…” Using magnets to guide catheters through the veins from the groin to the heart to treat arrhythmias has a number of advantages over conventional methods:

  1. Reduced radiation exposure
    Stereotaxis, Inc.Off Site Icon reports that on average, the magnetically driven system requires only 17.8 minutes of X-ray exposure, compared to the conventional method average of 27.1 minutes—a 35% decrease. However, Dr. Krebs reports that experienced electrophysiologists may be able to decrease X-ray exposure by up to 90%.
  2. Increased accuracy and precision
    Magnetically driven navigation allows electrophysiologists to more accurately target the catheter tips, ensuring that only the intended tissue is destroyed. The increased accuracy not only minimizes risk of unnecessary damage to the patient, it also allows surgeons to treat complex arrhythmias that were previously untreatable.

Stereotaxis, Inc. also notes that the catheters are ultra-soft, less likely to damage thin, fragile heart tissue. The minimally invasive nature of this procedure also minimizes patient scarring and recovery time.

To learn more about the advantages of Stereotaxis, please speak with your health care provider. 

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How does Stereotaxis benefit those with abnormal heart rhythms?

Premier Health’s Dr. Mark Krebs explains the benefit of Stereotaxis. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Many abnormal heart rhythms are treated with a procedure called cardiac or catheter ablation. During this procedure, a catheter is threaded through a vein (usually in the groin) up to the heart where electrodes are placed on specific sites where the short circuit causing the arrhythmia originates. These electrodes deliver radiofrequency energy to burn the tissue or cryoenergy to freeze the tissue, isolating the errant electrical signals.

Stereotaxis is a specific system used for cardiac ablation procedures. Using the Stereotaxis system, electrophysiologists magnetically navigate the catheters to the destination sites on the heart muscle. As Dr. Krebs explains, magnetic navigation allows for a greater degree of accuracy in the placement of the electrodes. Increased precision means that only the tissue conducting the extra electrical signals will be destroyed, effectively addressing the arrhythmia while decreasing the risk to patients.

As Stereotaxis Inc.Off Site Icon, manufacturer of the magnetically-driven robotic system, explains, the system also uses ultra-soft catheter wires, which are less likely to damage soft heart tissue. The system also enables electrophysiologists to significantly reduce their use of X-rays to guide the catheters to the heart and place the electrodes. According to Dr. Krebs, compared to the conventional procedure, Stereotaxis catheter ablation can reduce patient exposure to radiation by up to 90%.

Speak with your health care provider to learn more about the benefits of Stereotaxis.

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What is cryoballoon ablation?

Premier Health’s Dr. Abdul Wase explains cryoballoon ablation. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Catheter ablation has been used for many years to treat heart arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation (A Fib). Historically, radiofrequency energy was applied to heart tissue point-by-point to burn (destroy) the opening of a vein in the tissue causing the abnormal electrical signal conduction. Advances in technology now allow electrophysiologists to use cryotherapy—cold energy—to freeze the problem tissue.

As Dr. Wase explains, during the procedure, a catheter is inserted in a vein in the groin and threaded to the problem area of the heart. When the catheter reaches its destination, a balloon containing liquid nitrogen is inflated. According to EPLab DigestOff Site Icon, the transformation of liquid nitrogen to a gas state results in a temperature of -80°F, effectively freezing and destroying the surrounding cells. The inflation of the cryoballoon creates a lesion that effectively blocks the vein opening.

Results of the STOP AF clinical trials (published in the Journal of the American College of CardiologyOff Site Icon) show that the isolating and destroying pulmonary veins through cryoballoon ablation is a safe and effective alternative to medications to treat atrial fibrillation. 12 months following the procedure, 69.9% of patients who underwent cryoballoon ablation were still asymptomatic, compared to only 7.3% of patients who were treated with medication alone.

Speak with your health care provider to learn more about cryoballoon ablation.

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What are advantages of using cryoballoon ablation to treat abnormal heart rhythms?

Premier Health’s Dr. Kevin Kravitz discusses the advantages of cryoballoon ablation in the treatment of arrhythmias. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

 

Catheter ablation is a procedure used to treat, and often cure, atrial fibrillation (A Fib) by destroying tissue around vein openings that has been identified as the source of short circuits, as Dr. Kravitz calls them, in the upper chambers of the heart (atria). In cryoballoon ablation, a balloon containing liquid nitrogen is inflated at the vein opening, creating a circular lesion that cuts off electrical conduction to the rest of the heart.

According to Dr. Wilber Su, an electrophysiologist at Cavanagh Heart CenterOff Site Icon in Phoenix, Arizona, this procedure has a number of advantages over the ablations done via radiofrequency. These advantages include:

  • Less tissue manipulation by the surgeon
    The balloon actually freezes to the tissue, minimizing damage to surrounding tissues. Atrio-esophageal fistulas, a potentially fatal complication of ablation procedures, are less common (possibly absent) following cryoballoon ablation, according to a 2011 Journal of Innovations in Cardiac Rhythm Management [Link to http://www.innovationsincrm.com/ in a new window with off site icon and 3rd party content disclaimer] article.
  • Less use of fluoroscope (X-ray)
    Experienced surgeons may only use the fluoroscope for five minutes, significantly reducing the patient’s radiation exposure.
  • Shorter procedure time
    Cryoballoon ablation can be done in approximately two hours compared to procedure time of four hours or more when using radiofrequency. As a result, patients are under general anesthesia for less time, reducing risks of anesthesia complications.

Cryoballoon ablation is a relatively new method of treating arrhythmias, so statistics about patient safety and outcomes are limited. However, physicians in the field expect to see improved success rates for patients with atrial fibrillation and other arrhythmias.

For more information about the advantages of cryoballoon ablation, please speak with your health care provider. 

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Source: Kevin Kravitz, MD, Dayton Heart Center; Mark E. Krebs, MD, Miami Valley Cardiologists; Abdul Wase, MD, The Premier Heart Associates; Sameh Khouzam, MD, Dayton Heart Center

Content Updated: January 22, 2019

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