Why you should get irregular heartbeats checked

The Medical City

Posted at Oct 07 2019 09:40 AM

If you have an irregular pulse, experience palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, and weakness, you may have symptoms of irregular heartbeat, or what doctors call atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is an irregular heartbeat where the upper chambers of the heart quiver or beat irregularly, instead of contracting and relaxing to a regular beat to effectively move blood into the ventricles.

These symptoms, while normally frightening, are usually non-life threatening. However, doctors caution that the real danger of an irregular heartbeat is an increased risk of stroke, and the possibility of heart failure in the long run. Thus, experts stress the importance of regular check-ups, early detection and diagnosis to ensure heart health as atrial fibrillation sometimes exhibit no symptoms at all.

"It will be ideal to see a specialist as soon as the diagnosis of AFib is established so treatment options can be decided on and prepared for before symptoms get worse," said The Medical City’s heart rhythm specialist, Dr. Luigi Pierre Segundo.

Treatment options for atrial fibrillation

During the recent launch of The Medical City Cardiovascular Institute’s Atrial Fibrillation Clinical Care Program, world renowned electrophysiologist Dr. Razali Omar spoke on the latest treatment options and long term management of having irregular heartbeat.

According to Razali, AFib may start out benign, but it can progress over time and become more serious. Thus, treatment goals are often centered around regaining a normal heart rhythm or controlling the heart rate to reduce the risk of complications. As one of the first physicians in Asia to perform an innovative catheter-based technique for atrial fibrillation, Razali cited a new, minimally invasive procedure called cryoablation.

In this process, an electrophysiologist (EP) will isolate and inactivate regions of the heart that cause AFib – usually around the pulmonary veins – and restore the heart to its normal rhythm. The EP doctor uses a thin flexible tube, known as a balloon catheter, to locate and freeze the areas around the pulmonary veins. Compared to previous conventional treatments, this new treatment is designed to reduce risks and minimize patient discomfort.

Radiofrequency ablation or cryoablation?

Prior to cryoablation, the traditional approach to treating atrial fibrillation was using heat-based radiofrequency ablation (RFA) – a procedure still being used today. What’s the difference between the two? Razali refers to these as fire and ice: while radiofrequency uses heat to isolate the pulmonary veins and regulate heart rhythm, cryoablation does the same through freezing.

Preparation of the Medtronic Arctic Front Advance Cryoablation Catheter System.

While radiofrequency ablation is still the standard technique for treating atrial fibrillation, cryoablation has been gaining popularity because of its results: complete circumferential ablation of the pulmonary veins, shorter procedures with less complications, and higher overall success of maintaining a regular heart rate.

"AFib is considered a chronic disease -- it may go on and off (paroxysmal) or may persist and become permanent. Undergoing catheter ablation early may result to longer maintenance in normal sinus rhythm," said Dr. Luigi Segundo.

The Cryoablation catheter system- being advanced inside the heart via a femoral vein puncture.

To best determine the optimal treatment for atrial fibrillation, it is best to go to world-renowned institutions such as The Medical City, which boasts of a dedicated Atrial Fibrillation Clinical Care Program under the TMC Cardiovascular Institute.

Segundo and his team approach each patient differently – diagnosis and recommended treatments are given based on careful analysis of each patient's symptoms and concomitant medical issues.

Their program also addresses other medical issues related to atrial fibrillation such as stroke prevention, heart rate or rhythm control, as well as prevention and management of complications and triggers.

TMC also prides itself in a complete, holistic treatment experience – apart from medication and procedures, doctors advise patients on changes in lifestyle, diet, and exercise. Symptoms are also continuously managed through regular check-ups and monitoring.

Cryoablation is done under fluoroscopic guidance in the electrophysiology laboratory.

The Medical City believes that one’s best investment is in health, and this is why it remains steadfast in delivering the best treatments in world-class facilities, and views patients as long-term partners.

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