Whether it's sheer excitement or paralyzing fear, there are many things that make our heart's skip a beat. But what if your heart beat is irregular all the time?
3 million Americans are currently living with a disease called atrial fibrillation or A-fib. This heart condition can make the most simple task quite the chore.
"Atrial fibrillation is a chaotic irregular rhythm that happens in the top chamber and leads to the irregular heart beating sensed by the patient as palpitation, some complain of fatigue, tiredness, shortness of breath things like these." Said Dr. Riyad Mohama, an electrophysiologist with the North Central Heart Institute.
With too many electrical currents in the upper chambers, the heart cannot beat properly. Not every irregular heart beat is A-fib, but Dr. Mohama says an irregular beat should not be ignored.
"We always try to start with medical therapy, if medications are unsuccessful or not tolerable by the patient then the alternative is to use what we call catheter ablation." Said Dr. Mohama.
Dr. Mohama allowed us in to watch this special procedure to correct A-fib. Dr. Mohama inserted a total of five catheters into the patient's leg vein, those catheters then follow the vein back into the heart.
One of these catheters, called the lasso scans and maps out the heart, giving Dr. Mohama a 3D view in real time. Dr. Mohama also has an external x-ray, as well as an ultrasound equipped catheter that gives him a view from inside the heart. Using every view, Dr. Mohama goes to the source of the irregular heartbeat, the left atrium.
"What we try to do is get into that area and isolate those veins." Said Dr. Mohama.
The pulmonary veins coming from the lungs are the culprits sending too many electrical signals. Using focused radio waves Dr. Mohama ablates, or burns, away their electrical connection.
"We go around the bad spot and try to create a scar, if you will, to prevent the electricity from going from the vein into the inside of the heart." Said Dr. Mohama.
An easier way to describe catheter ablation is like a three way light switch. You may have several switches controlling a light but like an electrician, Dr. Mohama will sever the circuit so only one current or light switch controls the heart.
This is a long thorough procedure and can take any number of ablations. On this screen each red dot shows where Dr. Mohama has already ablated or made a scar to stop the current. Once enough ablations have been made Dr. Mohama can test and make sure the irregular heart beat in the atrium has been corrected.
"Atrial fibrillation is one of the complex cases that we deal with but we are getting on this and are having good success with those year after year." Said Dr. Mohama.
If caught early enough A-fib is curable with catheter ablation. This procedure is just another example of the marvels of modern medicine being used at the Avera Heart Hospital to both save and improve lives.
Genetics play a large part in what causes atrial fibrillation but high blood pressure and hypertension are also risk factors.
For more information about A-fib or the Avera Heart Hospital just call 877-AT-AVERA.