Patients with irregular heartbeats breathe easier

September 08, 2015 | by Apoor Gami, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

Nearly three million people in the U.S. have atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heart rhythm that makes a person feel breathless, tired, weak or dizzy. It’s a condition that, if left untreated, can lead to congestive heart failure. Also, if you have AFib, you may be at increased risk of having a stroke. It’s important to get the right treatment so you can return to your normal activities and prevent serious health issues down the road.

One of my patients, Holly Linneweh, benefited from an innovation in heart care being offered at Edward-Elmhurst Health. Back in October 2009, before I met Holly, she knew something wasn’t quite right. Holly had a “weird chest feeling” and went to the ER, where she learned she was experiencing her first episode of AFib. Her doctors used medication to get Holly “back in rhythm” as we say.

Holly didn’t have her next Afib attack for three more years, but after that, they happened more often. In February 2013, her doctors performed a cardioversion (an electric shock) to restore her heart’s normal rhythm. This had to be repeated in April 2014.

That’s when Holly first came to see me at the advice of her cardiologist. I recommended a procedure we’ve used for years to treat AFib patients, in which we would ablate (or burn) areas within the heart that were causing the AFib. But we had something more to offer now.

In September 2014, Holly became the first patient in Illinois to be treated with the Topera 3D Mapping System. This system allowed us to pinpoint the locations of the chaotic electrical activity that disrupted the normal rhythm of Holly’s heart and caused the persistence of her AFib episodes.

Here’s how it works: A catheter is inserted into the upper chambers (atria) of the heart where an expandable “basket” conforms to the shape of each heart chamber. The basket has eight “splines” with 64 evenly spaced electrodes that create a three-dimensional map of each chamber. This enables us to find the exact sources of the arrhythmia, and quickly and precisely ablate the spots in the heart with improved results.

Studies show an 80-85 percent success rate one year after an ablation procedure using the 3D mapping system. That’s a success rate that was previously unheard of for the treatment of patients with persistent AFib. Before the new mapping technology, success rates when using ablation to treat persistent AFib had only been about 40-60 percent.

After the procedure, Holly noticed an improvement right away. She no longer has to stop to catch her breath after routine activities like walking up a flight of steps. “This is great that they were able to figure out how to do this,” Holly said. “I was excited that this was going to be the end of AFib. I’m good and I’m alive.”

Find out if you’re at risk for heart disease. Take a free five-minute test that could save your life.

Learn more about heart care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Apoor Gami, MD is a specialist in cardiac electrophysiology at Elmhurst Hospital and with Midwest Heart-Advocate Medical Group.

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