Atrial Fibrillation & Atrial Flutter
Atrial fibrillation, also called AFib, is an irregular, often rapid, heart rate that results in poor blood flow throughout the body. AFib affects more than 2.7 million people worldwide and can be a life-threatening condition, as it can result in congestive heart failure or stroke .
Our Approach to Treating AFib
Our cardiac specialists are experts at diagnosing and treating AFib and atrial flutter. With extensive experience and access to the latest tools and technology, we deliver the most effective treatment options for your specific condition and unique needs.
Our doctors were leaders in pioneering the less invasive surgical and nonsurgical procedures, such as the mini-Maze and LARIAT procedures, used to treat AFib and its complications. We were also the first hospital in Texas to offer the WATCHMAN™ device, as well as participate in the clinical trials leading to its approval.
AFib is characterized by a few common symptoms:
Shortness of breath
- Weakness or problems exercising
- Chest pain
- Dizziness or fainting
- Heart palpitations
To diagnose, as well as help further define, your specific AFib condition, your doctor may use one of the following tests:
- Physical exam
- Cardiac stress testing
- Chest X-ray
- CT scan
- Transesophageal Echocardiogram
- Wearable or implanted ECG monitor
How AFib is treated depends on the duration of the AFib, the frequency and severity of your symptoms, how well your heart functions and whether heart disease runs in your family.
Generally, heart medication is the first step in treating AFib and atrial flutter. These medications are used to control the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat and to prevent or treat blood clots.
Your cardiologist who specializes in arrhythmia may also use one of the following procedures to restore normal heart rhythm:
- Electrical cardioversion – low-energy shocks that trigger a normal heart rhythm
- Catheter ablation – a catheter-based procedure that uses radio waves to destroy the abnormal heart tissue that is disrupting the normal flow of electrical signals
- Maze surgery – open heart bypass surgery that isolates the atrial tissue with radiowaves and/or freezing in order to prevent the spread of disorganized electrical signals
- Mini-Maze surgery – small incisions are used to access and destroy nerves that can initiate AFib, as well as close the left atrial appendage (which reduces the risk of blood clots and stroke)
In some cases, other nonsurgical and surgical procedures can be used to treat AFib.
Nonsurgical Procedures for AFib
Our experts pioneered a catheter-based procedure that provides long-term protection against stroke in people with atrial fibrillation. This approach focuses on the left atrial appendage (LAA), a major source of stroke-causing blood clots in people with AFib. Through a needle-puncture in the skin, the LAA is accessed and tied off with the use of the LARIAT procedure.
We also were the first hospital in Houston offer a device called the WATCHMAN™ — shown to be as effective as blood thinners in reducing stroke risk for people with AFib. The WATCHMAN™ procedure also has fewer potential side effects and risks associated with it than lifelong reliance on blood thinners.
Surgical Treatment Options for AFib
The typical surgical treatment for AFib is the Cox-Maze procedure, which has an excellent success rate, but is highly invasive.
As an alternative to open surgery, our cardiovascular surgeons have perfected a minimally invasive approach called the mini-Maze procedure — a far less invasive way to treat AFib. In addition, since blood thinners aren’t required afterwards, this procedure is an effective option for people who cannot take blood thinners.
The benefits of our mini-Maze procedure are:
- Reduced pain
- Faster recovery and the ability to return to normal life more quickly
- No blood thinners are required after the procedure
- The left atrial appendage is also closed during this procedure, reducing the risk of blood clots and stroke
Our surgeons are also experts in video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS), another minimally invasive procedure used to diagnose and treat AFib. During this procedure, small incisions are made in your chest. Through these incisions, a tiny camera is inserted to help guide the surgeon and special surgical instruments are inserted to perform the procedure.