Atrial Fibrillation Surgery
Atrial fibrillation, or AF, is the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia . An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. AF originates in the upper chambers of the heart, the right and left atria.
During atrial fibrillation:
- The heart beats irregularly and often rapidly instead of in a steady rhythm
- This change causes the heart’s chambers to quiver (fibrillate)
- Atrial fibrillation may also affect the lower chambers of the heart, known as the ventricles, causing the pulse to become irregular and too fast
While atrial fibrillation is treatable and generally not life threatening, an accurate diagnosis and individualized treatment plan is important. The condition can cause several problems, some of them serious:
- Palpitations, resulting in discomfort and anxiety
- Inefficient blood circulation
- Pooling of blood in the atria, which increases the chances of clotting and stroke
- Congestive heart failure from the heart having to work too hard, with particular risk if the patient also has other heart problems
Symptoms of atrial fibrillation can resemble those of other heart disorders or alternatively, the patient may have atrial fibrillation and not have any symptoms. Symptoms include:
- Irregular or fast heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Inability to exercise
- Chest discomfort or anxiety
Medication or electrical cardioversion can be used to treat atrial fibrillation. If surgery is indicated, these surgical options are available:
- Catheter ablation: Ablation uses special tubes (catheters) to deliver heat or cold energy to the heart. The energy creates scars that stop the abnormal electrical impulses.
- Surgical ablation (Cox-Maze procedure): The Cox-Maze procedure is a highly specialized treatment for atrial fibrillation. Cardiac surgeons will create a series of safe and effective scars to permanently block the electrical signals triggering the irregular heartbeat. After the procedure, most patients do not need to take blood thinners or other medications. Using either hot (radiofrequency) or cold (cryoablation) energy, the ablation provides the same excellent results while more than halving the procedure time, treats the heart more gently and leads to a shorter, easier recovery.