Atrial Fibrillation & Atrial Flutter
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More than 2.2 million people worldwide suffer from atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular and often rapid heart rate that results in poor blood flow to the body. During AFib, the heart's two upper chambers beat irregularly, out of sync with the two lower chambers. AFib is a serious condition because it may lead to congestive heart failure or stroke.
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
AFib is characterized by a few common symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness or problems exercising
- Chest pain
- Dizziness or fainting
- Heart palpitations
Whether you’ve already been diagnosed with AFib or think you may be experiencing symptoms, schedule an appointment with a heart specialist.
Treatment of atrial fibrillation
Treatment depends on the frequency of symptoms, the severity of the symptoms and history of heart disease in your family. Doctors at Houston Methodist use findings from medical and family histories, a physical exam and laboratory tests and procedures to make a diagnosis.
Generally, medication is the first step. Drugs can be used to control the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat and to prevent or treat blood clots. An electrocardiogram (EKG) may also be required to detect AFib.
Cardiologists can also use the following procedures to restore normal heart rhythm.
- Electrical cardioversion is a procedure in which the heart receives low-energy shocks to trigger a normal rhythm.
- Catheter ablation sends radio waves through a catheter to destroy abnormal heart tissue that is disrupting the normal flow of electrical signals.
- Maze surgery uses small incisions, radio waves, freezing or ultrasound energy to create scar tissue in the atria of the heart to prevent the spread of disorganized electrical signals.
The typical surgical treatment for AFib is the Cox-Maze procedure, which has an excellent success rate but is highly invasive. Cardiovascular surgeons at Houston Methodist have perfected an alternative technique, the mini-Maze procedure, which is a minimally invasive way to treat AFib. Patients who undergo this procedure have less pain, heal faster and are able to return to normal life much more quickly than those who undergo a more invasive surgical procedure.
Physicians at Houston Methodist also have pioneered a nonsurgical procedure that provides long-term protection against stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation. This approach focuses on the left atrial appendage (LAA), a major source of stroke-causing blood clots in patients with AFib. Through a needle-puncture in the skin, the LAA is accessed and tied off with the use of the Lariat suture delivery device.
The WATCHMAN™ Device
A device called the WATCHMAN™ has shown to be as effective as blood thinners in reducing stroke risk for people with AFib. It also has fewer potential side effects and risks associated with it than lifelong reliance on blood thinners. Houston Methodist was the first and only area institution to offer the device to patients. It also was the only Houston-area institution involved in device clinical trials leading to its approval.
Cardiologists thread a catheter through the femoral vein to the heart’s right upper chamber. They then cross over to the left upper chamber and deliver the device to the left atrial appendage. The device expands and attaches to the wall of the left atrial appendage. It blocks blood from flowing in and prevents clots from flowing out of the appendage.