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Best Life: Freezing away AFib

Published: Aug. 30, 2021 at 8:35 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Every year atrial fibrillation, known as AFib, or AF, contributes to the deaths of about 158,000 Americans. It’s a condition where the heartbeat is irregular, and blood doesn’t flow well through the heart chambers. Medication has traditionally been the first treatment doctors recommend, but now the expanded use of a cold ablation procedure is increasing options.

Patients with atrial fibrillation may have no symptoms at all, some may feel a fluttering in their chest, or be out of breath and fatigued. Over time, the episodes can be more frequent and last longer.

“The biggest issue though is that in the atrium, because it’s really not pumping it’s just quivering, blood can stagnate and cause a clot, and that can cause a stroke,” said Oussama Wazni, MD Electrophysiologist, Cleveland Clinic.

In a recent clinical trial, doctors studied the use of a technique called cryoablation as a first-line treatment before medication. During the procedure, doctors used a catheter with a balloon to reach the upper left chamber of the heart and then used cold energy to ablate cells and block abnormal electrical signals causing the arrhythmia.

“Close to 75 percent of those who had the ablation maintained sinus rhythm. And they felt so much better for their quality of life was much better versus 45 percent, only 45 percent in the drug arm,” said Wazni.

As a result, the FDA expanded the use of the artic front cryoablation system to treat patients with recurrent AFib.

“We can offer them an ablation sooner than later, and they won’t have to deal with the medications and their side effects, and also, the risk of progression of atrial fibrillation,” said Wazni.

The system was tested as a first-line treatment in three separate trials, two in the US and one in Latin America, Europe, Asia and Australia. The results of all three trials supported the use of cryoablation for patients who have had a sudden increase or recurrent AFib.

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