A-Fib: Minimally Invasive Treatment

Medical Intel from MedStar Washington Hospital Center

Minimally Invasive Treatment
for A-Fib

Treating Atrial Fibrillation or A-Fib by Catheter Ablation

Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure performed by an electrophysiologist, a cardiologist who specializes in treating heart rhythms. You will be totally or partially sedated for the procedure. A local anesthetic will be applied to the thigh area where the ablation catheter is inserted through little more than a pinprick. The catheter is gently guided to the left atrium heart chamber to map the abnormal electrical pathways in the heart tissue. Heating or cooling energy is then used to block abnormal signals that cause A-Fib.

Catheter ablation is safe, highly effective and requires very little recovery time. Most patients return to their normal lives the very next day.

What is atrial fibrillation?

The human heart is a pump controlled by electrical signals. During each heartbeat, the upper chamber (atria) and lower chambers (ventricles) contract pumping blood to the body. These contractions are timed in sequence by the electrical system of the heart. Atrial fibrillation or A-Fib disrupts the normal rhythm and causes the heart to beat irregularly.

A-fib may be episodic, for which the irregular heartbeat lasts less than seven days, usually less than 24 hours and has recurred at least twice or permanent lasting longer than one year and does not respond to treatment or treatment has not been attempted.

A-Fib affects nearly five million Americans and although not life threatening, it can have serious consequences. People with A-fib are at a much higher risk of stroke and left untreated, it can lead to heart failure.

What are the risk factors for atrial fibrillation?

There is no one cause for atrial fibrillation although there are many conditions that are risk factors in developing this condition, including:

  • Aging: Three to five percent of people over age 65 have A-Fib and up to 10 percent of people over age 80 have A-Fib
  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Previous heart attack
  • Sleep apnea
  • Heart valve problems
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Diabetes
  • Other arrhythmias, including atrial flutter and ventricular fibrillation
  • Inflammation, such as after heart surgery (CABG)
  • Lung diseases, including pulmonary embolism
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Viral infections
  • Obesity

What are the symptoms and how is atrial fibrillation diagnosed?

The most common symptoms of atrial fibrillation include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Tiredness or lack of energy
  • Dizziness, light-headedness or feeling faint
  • Chest pressure or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath

However, some people may have atrial fibrillation and experience no symptoms at all

What are the treatment options?

Physicians prescribe medications such as aspirin, warfarin, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and anti-arrhythmic medicines to treat A-Fib. If the medications do not work or are not tolerated, there are a variety of invasive and non-invasive procedures available. The ultimate goal is for patients to regain a normal heart rhythm, control the heart rate, prevent blood clots and thus, reduce the risk of stroke.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call

202-759-0267

As heard on WTOP Radio:

Pictured: Zayd A. Eldadah, MD, Cardiac Electrophysiology

To find a cardiac specialist, please call 202-759-0267

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