Turn on your "HeartLight"! New atrial fibrillation treatment

It may share the name of a popular beat from the eighties, but the HeartLight we're talking about is helping heartbeats get back to normal.

Now there is a new treatment for a problem affecting millions of Americans, that's helping doctors do something they've never done before.

"It felt like my heart was going to explode,” said heart patient Bret Story. “Everything was just racing. I thought I was probably having a heart attack."

That was Bret Story's first episode of atrial fibrillation, a condition that causes your heart to beat fast and out of rhythm. It's the most common form of arrhythmia and can lead to stroke or heart attack. As Bret remodels the bar he's owned for 17 years

"We're just putting on the finishing touches right now," says Story.

He says over those years it happened more and more.

"Out of breath, zero energy," Story explains the symptoms that he was having.

Bret was picked to be one of the first people to undergo a new procedure.

The HeartLight is a balloon catheter with a camera inserted through a tiny hole in the groin. The HeartLight is giving doctors a new way to burn away the problem.

"We can actually look into the heart, which is fascinating,” says Dr. David E. Haines of the Beaumont Hospital. “To actually see the heart, the beating heart and to actually see the target right there in front of us."

Beaumont Hospital's Doctor David Haines says traditional ablation treatments that purposely damage problem areas in the heart to fix it, aren't too precise.

"It is very difficult to manipulate the catheter around," says Dr. Haines.

He says the beating heart images he sees with the HeartLight allow him to aim and fire the laser more accurately to make a perfect line of burns around the problem area.

It's been two years since Bret's HeartLight treatment. He hasn't had an atrial fibrillation episode since.

"I can do anything I used to do," says Story. "You can see the mess."

Story is now back hard at work, and without a heart problem.

Doctor Haines says the HeartLight is designed for patients whose atrial fibrillation starts and stops by itself. People with chronic atrial fibrillation would need more treatment on top of the HeartLight procedure.

Recruiting for phase three trials of the HeartLight are going on right now at sites across the country.


REPORT: MB #3506

BACKGROUND: Atrial fibrillation or AF, is the most common type of arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm.

AF occurs if rapid, disorganized electrical signals cause the heart's two upper chambers-called the atria-to fibrillate. The term "fibrillate" means to contract very fast and irregularly.

In AF, blood pools in the atria. It isn't pumped completely into the heart's two lower chambers, called the ventricles. As a result, the heart's upper and lower chambers don't work together as they should.

People who have AF may not feel symptoms. However, even when AF isn't noticed, it can increase the risk of stroke. In some people, AF can cause chest pain or heart failure, especially if the heart rhythm is very rapid.

AF may happen rarely or every now and then, or it may become an ongoing or long-term heart problem that lasts for years. (Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute)

WHAT CAUSES ATRIAL FIBRILLATION? Possible causes of atrial fibrillation
Abnormalities or damage to the heart's structure are the most common cause of atrial fibrillation. Possible causes of atrial fibrillation include:

-High blood pressure
-Heart attacks
-Abnormal heart valves
-Heart defects you're born with (congenital)
-An overactive thyroid gland or other metabolic imbalance
-Exposure to stimulants such as medications, caffeine or tobacco, or to alcohol
-Sick sinus syndrome - improper functioning of the heart's natural pacemaker
-Emphysema or other lung diseases
-Previous heart surgery
-Viral infections
-Stress due to pneumonia, surgery or other illnesses
-Sleep apnea

However, some people who have atrial fibrillation don't have any heart defects or damage, a condition called lone atrial fibrillation. In lone atrial fibrillation, the cause is often unclear, and serious complications are rare. (Source: mayoclinic.com)

THE HEARTLIGHT: The HeartLight® Endoscopic Ablation System, is the first technology that allows cardiologists to see inside a beating heart while performing laser energy catheter ablation, a treatment aimed at restoring normal heart rhythm after medication has failed. The HeartLight incorporates a small camera, or endoscope, that allows cardiologists to see inside a beating heart on a monitor to more precisely deliver ablation energy. While the technology is only available at trial sites in the U.S., it is currently used at medical centers throughout Europe. (Source: beaumont.edu)

Brian Bierley
Beaumont Media Relations Coordinator

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