Tuesday, October 9, 2012
One of the most common forms of irregular heartbeat is atrial fibrillation, which affects as many as 2.7 million Americans. Atrial fibrillation (a-fib) not only causes discomfort, disruption and fatigue but also can lead to more serious problems such as stroke if left untreated.
Yet there are treatments that can help, including a potential long-term solution called cardiac ablation therapy that has been proven effective for patients who have the procedure done in time.
Atrial fibrillation is essentially an electrical problem of the heart with episodes of rapid and disorganized heartbeat, as Scott Green of Summerville knows firsthand.
While Green’s initial experience with atrial fibrillation caught him by surprise, it became a regular occurrence over time, as often happens with age. “I had atrial fibrillation on and off for about 10 years,” says Green, who is 53. “Then the symptoms became more prevalent and bothered me more often, and they weren’t able to control it with medication.”
The times that his irregular heartbeat persisted without stopping, Green would go to the electrophysiology (EP) lab at Trident Medical Center for an outpatient procedure called electrical cardioversion, which shocked his heart back into rhythm. But even though electrical cardioversion can be effective, it is often a temporary fix.
When Green starting receiving electrical cardioversion on a monthly basis, his cardiologist recommended that he see Dr. Darren Sidney, an electrophysiologist with Charleston Heart Specialists, for cardiac ablation therapy.
Dr. Sidney does cardiac ablation in the controlled setting of the EP lab with specially trained staff. Catheters are inserted into a blood vessel in the patient’s groin and neck and guided to the heart area, where Dr. Sidney uses electrodes to pinpoint trouble spots. He then burns around those trouble spots so they won’t trigger irregular rhythms any more. The scar tissue acts like a wall, containing rogue electrical impulses that would otherwise cause the heart to quiver.
Dr. Sidney has found that ablation stops or curbs a-fib in most patients. The key, he says, is to do ablation before it’s too late. “Once you go to into a-fib all the time, then it becomes difficult to ablate.”
Green only had to stay overnight in the hospital after his cardiac ablation and was up and around within a week. “I had the procedure in April, and it has been a great success for me. I’m off medications now, and I haven’t had any more atrial fibrillation since then,” he says. “I can go out and play golf now, and I don’t worry about having a problem, or even mowing the yard or traveling out of town.”
A father of two daughters, Green also enjoys cheering at football games for the University of South Carolina, where his youngest attends college. “I’ll probably go to a few more this year.”