Irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias), or electrical problems of the heart, affect millions of people each year. When the electrical impulses that cause the heart muscle to contract are not propagated normally, an arrhythmia occurs. Arrhythmias can occur in a healthy heart and be of minimal consequence, but they can also indicate a serious problem and lead to heart disease, stroke or sudden cardiac death.
Your heartbeat is controlled by a series of electrical impulses. If the flow of electrical signals changes, you can experience an irregular heartbeat. Though most irregular heartbeats are harmless, some require medical intervention. Atrial fibrillation (a-fib), a high-risk heart condition that usually affects patients ages 50 and older, is the most common abnormal heart rhythm (cardiac arrhythmia) and involves the two upper chambers of the heart, which are called the atria. Its name comes from the fibrillating or quivering of the heart muscles of the atria, instead of a coordinated contraction.
Treatment for Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation can be treated with medications to slow the heart rate or revert the heart rhythm back to normal. Surgical and catheter-based therapies can also be used to prevent recurrence of a-fib in certain individuals.
The Heart Center offers two main procedures to treat a-fib:
Robotic surgical system - The Heart Center uses the state-of-the-art Hansen Sensei® X Robotic Catheter System to treat atrial flutters, which lessens patients' exposure to radiation and allows doctors controlled access through what would otherwise be an extremely complex procedure. The procedure, called atrial fibrillation ablation, uses catheters, led through the groin, to build an electrical roadmap of the heart and then destroys cells around the heart that are causing the abnormal heartbeat. The robot allows accuracy and control of catheter movement and positioning through 3D visualization.
Convergent procedure - This two-part surgery involves ablating inside and outside of the heart. It's typically done on patients with aggressive atrial fibrillation. While one surgeon guides catheters through a vein leading from the groin into the left heart chamber to create scar tissue and suppress abnormal electrical signals, another surgeon works outside the heart, making a small incision in the chest and inserting a tiny camera to help view areas that need ablation.
No matter which procedure, the ultimate goal is to return the patient's heart's rhythm to normal as quickly as possible. Medication is sometimes still necessary after surgery.
Risk Factors and Causes for Atrial Fibrillation
The chance of developing atrial fibrillation increases with age. Fewer than one in 100 people in their 50s have a-fib, but about 10 in 100 people in their 80s have it.
Most people with atrial fibrillation have heart disease; however, one-third of those with a-fib have no underlying heart disease. While the cause of a-fib is often unknown, possible causes include:
An overactive thyroid or other metabolic imbalance
Damage or microscopic abnormalities in the muscles of the atria (upper heart chambers)