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A Minimally Invasive Procedure for Arrhythmias

According to the American Heart Association, millions of Americans have cardiac arrhythmias, or abnormal electrical impulses that cause irregular or fast heartbeats. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas offers a variety of treatment options, including a minimally invasive procedure called ablation.

According to the American Heart Association, there are several types of arrhythmia, including:

• Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of arrhythmia. In patients with atrial fibrillation, the heart’s two upper
chambers quiver instead of beating as they should.

• Bradycardia, or a heartbeat that is too slow, is characterized by a heartbeat of less than 60 beats per minute.

• Tachycardia, or a heart rhythm that is too fast, is identified by a heart that beats more than 100 times per minute.

Arrhythmias can last for a brief moment, hours, days or even a lifetime. In a patient whose arrhythmias last for
extended periods of time, the heart may fail to pump enough blood, which can lead to symptoms of fatigue, mental sluggishness, strokes and cardiac arrest in the worst-case scenario.

Medication often is an effective treatment option for patients with arrhythmias. However, if medication is
unsuccessful or causes unfavorable side effects, a minimally invasive procedure called ablation is available at Texas Health Dallas.

Traditional radiofrequency ablation uses heat to ablate (or destroy) the area of the heart causing abnormal electrical impulses, which can cause permanent damage to heart muscle containing the abnormal circuitry. In some circumstances, the abnormal heart muscle may be in very close proximity to healthy heart muscle containing vital conduction circuitry, which makes traditional radiofrequency ablation a higher-risk procedure and can lead to a complete heart blockage, necessitating pacemaker implantation.

An alternative at Texas Health Dallas is cryoablation, during which a catheter is inserted through the groin and
guided to the heart to safely “freeze” areas that are causing the arrhythmia. In the early phase of cryoablation, the damaged tissue can be thawed and reversed back to normal if unintended effects to healthy tissues are noted.
This gives physicians a valuable tool to provide an effective cure for certain cardiac arrhythmias with a much lower risk of complications.

“Patients who undergo cryoablation are typically back on their feet within four to six hours after the procedure and see minimal complications,” says Brian Lé, M.D., F.A.C.C., cardiac electrophysiologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas and director of the hospital’s Electrophysiology Lab. “With radiofrequency ablation, the damage would be done immediately, and a patient could ultimately need a pacemaker. With cryoablation, frozen areas can be thawed and effectively refrozen to avoid unwanted consequences.”

Although cryoablation isn’t currently used to treat all types of arrhythmia, Dr. Lé expects success with the procedure for conditions such as atrial fibrillation in the future.

“What we’re able to accomplish with cryoablation is tremendous,” Dr. Lé says. “It allows us to improve health and quality of life for patients while keeping them safe.”

Visit TexasHealth.org/CuttingEdge for a complete list of minimally invasive procedures available at Texas Health Dallas or call 1-877-THR-WELL (1-877-847-9355). (Summer 2010)

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