women holding hand to heart

Providing Hope for Patients with A-Fib

More than 5 million people in the US are living with atrial fibrillation (A-fib), the most common heart arrhythmia disorder. That’s nearly one in ten people over age 65.  A-fib is an irregular heartbeat that reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood through the body.  It can cause life-threatening blood clots, stroke or heart failure.

Treatment for A-fib varies and can include anticoagulant medications, more commonly known as blood thinners, electrical cardioversion, anti-arrhythmic medication, ablation, pacemaker or surgical interventions. 

People living with A-fib experience fatigue, shortness of breath, and a fast heartbeat. These symptoms make it harder to get around and do daily activities. Many A-fib suffers end up adjusting their routine because of these symptoms or the regular medicines they take to treat symptoms. Life-limiting changes in activities or the inability to continue with a favorite hobby or pastime can lead A-fib patients to seek alternative treatment.

An Alternative to Lifelong Heart Medications

Blood-thinning medications work for a lot of people, but for many AFib patients, the medications are not an option because of side effects.  “As many as 40 percent of AFib patients who are at high risk for stroke aren’t on medication,” says Michael Koelsch, MD.

Dr. Koelsch, cardiothoracic surgeon with Community Health Network, is able to offer hope to patients through an advanced treatment called the “Convergent Procedure.”  

The Convergent Procedure uses radiofrequency (extreme heat) to produce scar tissue that will block abnormal electrical signals of the heart.  Previously, surgical treatment involved a full incision along the front of the chest to reach the problem tissue. Today, the Convergent Procedure offers a minimally invasive option that requires only a small incision.

Three Phases of Minimally Invasive A-fib Treatment

First, the cardiac surgeon makes a small incision in the patient’s abdomen where a camera is inserted.  Targeted heat is used to destroy tissue in problems areas of the heart.  This is called radiofrequency ablation.  An area of ablated tissue is created on the back wall of the left atrium outside of the heart.

The second part of the procedure involves placing a clip over the left atrial appendage using small port incisions and a camera. This appendage is a major source of stroke in atrial fibrillation patients. The clip also isolates the appendage from the rest of the left atrium so that it cannot be a source of abnormal heart rhythms.

Next, the electrophysiologist (EP) threads a catheter through the patient’s femoral vein, in the groin, to the heart.  The EP uses radiofrequency ablation to fill in any remaining gaps inside the heart to block abnormal electrical impulses.  This team approach has been highly successful in putting patients back into a regular heart rhythm.

Treating Patients Better

Most Convergent Procedure patients experience shorter hospital stays. Shortly following the procedure, they’re able to stop taking their daily heart medications.  

Keeping up with the latest innovative technology and pioneering practices is part of Community Health Network’s commitment to putting patients first.  Cardiologists work with patients to determine the best treatment options, including procedures like the Convergent Procedure.  This shared decision-making allows the Central-Indiana healthcare provider to honor their promise of “Exceptional care. Simply delivered.”