Atrial Fibrillation: The Time Is NowheadingContent
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Don’t put off tomorrow what can be done today.” This rings true more so for atrial fibrillation, or AFib, than most patients realize. Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) in which the heart can beat too fast or too slow. The fact is, for decades physicians treating patients with AFib had nothing to offer accept a handful of potentially dangerous medications. A drug, like warfarin, affectionately referred to by many patients as “rat’s poison,” was the only option available when it came to stroke reduction. Then the drug amiodarone, which has a list of side effects so long, that the prescribing physician even paused before writing a prescription. Fortunately, things have evolved for the treatment of AFib, as most things do.
Atrial fibrillation ablation is a procedure performed by cardiac electrophysiologists, a heart rhythm specialist, to help eliminate AFib from the heart and improve quality of life for patients. In the past, patients were referred for ablation procedures after all medical therapies had failed for many years. We know now, more than ever, that earlier treatment is better. The likelihood of success for patients referred early to ablation is better than one who has failed medical treatments over the years and then had an ablation. Early treatment with catheter ablation, a minimally invasive treatment to help target and weed out AFib, can be very successful for the majority of patients treated early. Specifically those who suffer from paroxysmal AFib or AFib that comes and goes.
In the past, many patients were told they weren’t candidates for AFib ablation for one reason or another. The reason was that the success rates for standalone catheter ablation were mediocre in patients with persistent AFib who had been in continuous abnormal rhythm for many years. Now the development of hybrid ablation procedures, such as the convergent procedure, allows a team of physicians to attack AFib using a multidisciplinary approach. An electrophysiologist and cardiothoracic surgeon, together in one setting, can ablate AFib from the inside of the heart via catheter ablation and the outside of the heart using a special scope, or camera. The surgeon places the scope in the abdomen and into the sac covering the heart. This multidisciplinary approach has been shown to be much more effective for persistent AFib, as well as in patients previously deemed permanently in AFib.
The latest development in the arsenal is a procedure called the WATCHMAN Device. There are new options for patients seeking non-medical alternatives to drugs like warfarin. One such option is a minimally invasive catheter based approach, allowing doctors to pass a small “plug” into the heart chamber and close off the area of the heart responsible for strokes in AFib, called the left atrial appendage. Plugging this appendage has been shown to be an acceptable and safe alternative to warfarin in some patients.
The future is here when it comes to treatment of AFib, and the right option is out there for many patients to improve quality of life today.
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a relatively common heart defect that can lead to dire consequences if left untreated, including blood clots, stroke and heart failure. An estimated 15 – 20 percent of stroke victims suffer from atrial fibrillation. The Florida Institute for Atrial Fibrillation is a multidisciplinary center that brings together cardiac electrophysiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons to provide seamless care to atrial fibrillation patients.