New Hope for Correcting Irregular Heartbeat

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People who suffer from irregular heartbeat now have a different treatment option, thanks to a new procedure being offered at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

RWJUH is the first hospital in New Jersey and one of a few centers in the nation to offer patients the option of Microwave Ablation as a stand-alone procedure to eliminate atrial fibrillation, the most common form of irregular heartbeat.

Microwave Atrial Ablation is a minimally invasive technique in which a precise beam of microwave energy is applied to the source of the heart’s abnormal electrical activity that causes a cardiac arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat.

During the procedure, a catheter is inserted through a two-inch incision to apply microwave energy to the left and right atria. This energy produces a discreet lesion to prevent the transfer of electrical signals.

“Patients who have failed conventional therapy and can tolerate general anesthesia with no other significant risk factors for surgery are eligible,” said Dr. Mark Anderson, Director of the Minimally Invasive Cardiac Surgical Program at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Associate Professor of Surgery at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “By now offering this as a stand-alone procedure, we hope to eliminate atrial fibrillation in a greater number of patients.

Previously, Atrial Ablation was performed only in conjunction with other procedures, including Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery (CABG) and aortic and mitral valve surgeries.”

According to the American Heart Association, atrial fibrillation, found in 1-2 million Americans, occurs when the two small upper chambers of the heart, known as the atria, quiver instead of beating correctly.

As a result, a blood clot may occur because the blood in the atria is not pumped out completely. A stroke may result if a part of the blood clot leaves the heart and gets stuck in an artery in the brain. Approximately 15% of strokes are caused this way.

Atrial fibrillation has a number of causes, including weak blood flow to the heart muscle, problems with the heart valves or damage to the heart from untreated high blood pressure. Other medical conditions can also cause atrial fibrillation. Thyroid problems, infection or lung disease can all lead to an irregular heartbeat.

Microwave Ablation is not the first treatment option for patients with atrial fibrillation. Initially, medication or electrical cardioversion (electric shock) are attempted, but in cases where these therapies are unsuccessful, Microwave Atrial Ablation may be considered.

Not everyone with atrial fibrillation may be aware of their condition, as symptoms do not usually appear until the heart rate increases to 150 beats per minute. These may include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain or an irregular pulse. Oppositely, atrial fibrillation may also cause the heart rate to decrease, showing symptoms of fatigue, dizziness or fainting.

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, one of the nation’s leading academic health centers, is the principal hospital for UMDNJ – Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a member of the Robert Wood Johnson Health System & Network.