Melvin T. is like nearly three million other Americans—he lives with atrial fibrillation (AFib). Because AFib can cause blood to pool in the left atrial appendage of the heart, Melvin was at high risk for a stroke. Thanks to treatments offered by the electrophysiologists at our AFib Institute, Melvin was able to lower his risk for more serious health issues without intensive surgery.
What is AFib?
Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of heart rhythm disorder or arrhythmia. It is defined as an irregular and often rapid heart rate. AFib can make you feel as if you just ran a marathon while standing still. Symptoms include:
- Shortness of Breath
- Irregular Heartbeat
- Chest Discomfort
Am I At Risk for AFib?
Am I At Risk for AFib?
Approximately 1-2% of Americans live with atrial fibrillation, and up to 20% will experience it during their lifetime. While the exact causes of AFib vary from person to person, risk factors include:
- Alcohol Use
- Valvular Heart Disease
- Coronary Artery Disease
- Prior Heart Attack
- Congestive Heart Failure
Age also plays a factor into AFib cases—the older you are, the higher your risk. There are also some reversible causes of AFib, such as thyroid abnormality, pneumonia, pulmonary embolism and recent heart surgery.
AFib Institute Team
With St. Vincent’s on your side, living with AFib doesn’t have to be your reality anymore. We offer a variety of treatments and procedures to both manage and cure your AFib.
Medications & Minor Procedures
Medications & Minor Procedures
The symptoms of AFib can often be alleviated through the use of various medications. Blood thinners can be prescribed to reduce stroke risk, though this requires careful blood test monitoring. Beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and digoxin can help to control your heartrate.
Another approach to controlling AFib symptoms is to maintain sinus rhythm. Some patients bounce in and out of AFib on their own (called paroxysmal atrial fibrillation), while others stay in persistent AFib. In the case of persistent AFib, a simple procedure called cardioversion can convert you back to a normal heart rhythm while under anesthesia.
Implantation of a pacemaker with a relatively simple procedure called AV Junction Ablation can be helpful in rare occasions. However, this results in you being dependent on a pacemaker to achieve basic heart rhythm.
As an AFib patient, you face a heightened risk for strokes. The irregular heartbeat caused by AFib can lead to blood pooling in the left atrial appendage of your heart. This pooling can cause blood clots, which in turn can lead to strokes. Blood thinners can help manage this, but St. Vincent’s offers a solution for select patients which decreases the risks blood thinners present.
The minimally invasive Lariat procedure utilizes a lasso-like device—called a Lariat—that is inserted via a catheter. When it arrives at the left atrial appendage, your doctor is able to literally lasso the appendage and tie it off. This prevents blood from pooling, drastically reducing your risk for a stroke.
During this procedure, you’ll be sedated while small catheters are placed into both your veins and arteries in the legs, arm or neck and then passed to the heart. High-frequency electrical impulses are used to stimulate the arrhythmia and then destroy the abnormal tissue causing it.
There is usually little pain associated with this option. However, some patients do feel discomfort from the anesthesia and catheter placement, or a warm sensation in the chest.
Prior to the ablation process, you’ll take part in a comprehensive electrophysiologic study (EPS) to have your arrhythmia diagnosed and treated at once. Together with the ablation procedure, the entire process takes about four hours or less.
Success rates for catheter ablation vary, but are generally very high. If no complications arise, you’ll be able to go home the day after and be back to your normal activity a few days later.
This minimally invasive procedure, also known as the simplified Maze procedure, begins with small keyhole incisions in your chest. To make new paths for the electrical current in the heart, heat is delivered by a high-intensity focused ultrasound to form scar tissue on your heart. Your heart continues to beat throughout the procedure, so there’s no need for a heart-lung machine.
We strive to stay on the forefront of technology, which is why we’re proud to offer you the newest way to treat AFib: cryoablation.
During this procedure, a catheter is navigated to your heart’s left atrium through your groin. Once there, extremely cold energy is used to create a circular scar that separates the muscle fibers which cause AFib. Unlike other procedures, cryoablation utilizes a balloon in the veins.
With cryoablation, you’ll typically face excellent results, a great long-term outlook, and a relatively speedy recovery.
St. Vincent’s Riverside is the first hospital in Northeast Florida to offer this minimally invasive ablation procedure for patients with advanced cases of AFib. Unlike other ablations, this procedure requires a collaborative effort between a heart surgeon and electrophysiologist.
The heart surgeon performs an ablation on the outside of your heart while the electrophysiologist performs an ablation on the inside of your heart. Because the ablations are performed at the same time, you’ll be cleared to leave the hospital after two days in most cases.
Rotor mapping is a procedure for patients with complex AFib who aren’t seeing results from standard ablation treatments.
In rotor mapping procedures, a basket-shaped catheter is inserted through a small incision into a patient’s heart chamber. Once inside, the basket expands, and the 64 electrodes distributed along the basket map out the heart and relay the images back to a computer screen. This gives the doctor a full picture of the heart’s rotors, or points of electrical activity.
Rotor mapping allows physicians to find the specific rotors that sustain the irregular rhythms caused by AFib and ablate them directly. This opens up a world of possibilities for patients for whom standard ablations don't seem to work, because it allows doctors to find problem areas they couldn't otherwise see.