New tools help those with Atrial Fibrillation

About 2.5 million Americans live with Atrial Fibrillation.

It’s a disorder where the heart beats abnormally, raising the risk of stroke among those who have it.

Michael Young has lived with Atrial Fibrillation since the 1990’s. His racing, irregularly-beating heart would come and go.

"Sometimes, it was when I was exercising. Sometimes, it's late at night” said Young.

It would leave him dizzy and short of breath, but that wasn’t what bothered him the most.

"For me, the worst thing has been this kind of psychological thing” said Young.

The fact that Atrial Fibrillation increases the risk of stroke kept Michael up at night. Mayo doctor Doug Packer says medications can help, but they often stop working or have side effects and patients need more options.

"If a patient's heart is beating rapidly and irregularly, it is incredibly obnoxious. It is, in fact, a real hit on their quality of life” said Dr. Packer

He’s now using a new technique to fix the problem. First, a catheter is threaded up to the veins in the heart, and a balloon is inflated. That balloon is cooled rapidly, which creates a freezing zone around the opening of the vein.

"If we can block off the electrical conduction from inside the vein to the rest of the heart, we can be successful in eliminating atrial fibrillation” said Dr. Packer.

Study results show a 70% success rate.

"It's the first time that this kind of an approach has been used to eliminate atrial fibrillation. If they are in the 70 percent where it works, the results are dramatic” said Dr. Packer.

Michael was in that 70% percent. Now, he can focus on his work and stop worrying about his heart.

The best candidates for this treatment, which is a form of ablation, are people who have atrial fibrillation that comes and goes with little underlying heart disease.

Often, this new catheter procedure can fix the problem with just a single treatment, but Dr. Packer says sometimes a second treatment needs to be done.

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