It can be an odd feeling when one’s heart races, skips a beat or feels strangely fluttery. Most people experience an occasional, brief rapid heartbeat at some point during their lives. And although most of these occurrences are not problematic, there are times when erratic heart rhythms (arrhythmias) become serious.
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common heart arrhythmia, affecting more than three million Americans. An arrhythmia occurs when the heart beats too slowly, too fast, or in an irregular way. AFib is an irregular beating in the upper chambers of the heart (the two atria) disrupting the flow of blood from the atria to the lower chambers of the heart (the two ventricles). AFib occurs in the left atrium. Symptoms include palpitations (sometimes erratic or racing), shortness of breath, lightheadedness and fatigue.
Incorporating three-dimensional mapping, CT scans and intracardiac ultrasound, cardiologists now have great success treating patients with AFib. In 2014, a new groundbreaking technology called TactiCath™ Quartz ablation catheter by St. Jude Medical®, the first ablation catheter to incorporate contact force (via titanium sensor and optic fibers) to measure grams of force applied per square centimeter of tissue, was introduced. The new catheter means more consistent ablation energy can be delivered, leading to a reduction in procedure time by up to 50 percent, at the same time improving success rates.
AFib Ablation success
Patients often first experience an erratic, racing heartbeat before they know what it means. Taken by her husband to a nearby hospital, Mary P.* was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and prescribed medication. Her symptoms worsened and she had difficulty breathing, so Mary and her husband headed to urgent care.
“At urgent care, they said that my heart rate was way too high and they sent me to [the hospital] by ambulance,” explains Mary. “I had a cardioversion to reset the normal sinus rhythm but it didn’t work. The cardiologist told me I needed an ablation.”
Prior to her ablation procedure, Mary returned to emergency department with a ruptured appendix. Noting that Mary was on a blood thinner, her surgeon was hesitant about doing surgery.
“The doctor was called in and he really went to bat for me,” says Mary. “He asked the surgeon to put me through dialysis so the surgery could be done. After the dialysis, everything went fine.”
The ablation was performed and Mary is thrilled with the results of her procedure.
“I’m able to do just about anything I want to do,” says Mary. “My husband and I travel the world and I’m very active at home doing volunteer work, participating in my book club and enjoying our gourmet dinner group that has been happening regularly for 35 years.”
TactiCath Patient Katherine W.*
“It takes your breath away,” says Katherine W. “Sometimes I would lie in bed and feel like my heart was rotating, just tumbling. During those episodes, which lasted two or three hours, I was completely exhausted and felt like I couldn’t breathe. Afterwards, I had no desire to do anything.”
“My call has always been to feed people,” says Katherine, a retired Episcopalian priest. “I worked in a homeless shelter for many years and then as a deacon in the Episcopal church before becoming ordained. I’m still involved in compassion and justice issues and I work with people at church on those kinds of issues.”
“To me, there is nothing better than standing in moving water, fly fishing,” she says. “It’s so peaceful. I could spend my life there. I enjoy being active, so it was distressing to have all these bouts of atrial fibrillation.”
Hoping for some relief from her atrial fibrillation, Katherine made an appointment with her primary care physician who referred her to cardiologist.
Her cardiologist performed an atrial fibrillation ablation on her using the TactiCath catheter. Katherine’s recovery included just one night in the hospital.
“I had a wonderful nurse on the telemetry unit,” she says. “She explained, in minute detail, exactly how I would feel and what to expect. She said it would take some time for the brain to recognize what the ablation had done, so I might still have some of the atrial fibrillation sensations for a while. She was exactly right. Now I don’t have any.
“I feel great. I walk every day, golf and play bocce ball. I’m very grateful.”
*Patient names have been changed