Atrial fibrillation, also called arrhythmia, is an irregular heartbeat. It is a disorder found in about 2.2 million Americans.1 During atrial fibrillation (AF), the heart’s two small upper chambers (the atria) quiver instead of beating effectively. Blood isn’t pumped completely out of them, so it may pool and clot. If a piece of a blood clot in the atria leaves the heart and becomes lodged in an artery in the brain, a stroke results. About 15 percent of strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation. The likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation increases with age and three to five percent of people over 65 have atrial fibrillation. 2
Several approaches are used to treat and prevent abnormal beating:
Medications are used to slow down rapid heart rate associated with AF. These treatments may include drugs such as digoxin, beta blockers (atenolol, metoprolol, propranolol), amiodarone, disopyramide, calcium antagonists (verapamil, diltiazam), sotalol, flecainide, procainamide, quinidine, etc.
Electrical cardioversion may be used to restore normal heart rhythm with an electric shock, when medication doesn’t improve symptoms.
Drugs (such as ibutilide) can sometimes restore the heart’s normal rhythm. These drugs are given under medical supervision, and are delivered through an IV tube into a vein, usually in the patient’s arm.
Radiofrequency ablation may be effective in some patients when medications don’t work. In this procedure, thin and flexible tubes are introduced through a blood vessel and directed to the heart muscle. Then a burst of radiofrequency energy is delivered to destroy tissue that triggers abnormal electrical signals or to block abnormal electrical pathways.
Atrial pacemakers can be implanted under the skin to regulate the heart rhythm.
Surgery can be used to disrupt electrical pathways that generate AF.
Surgery for Arial Fibrillation
Surgery to treat AF can be considered when medical or interventional treatment is not successful or cannot be tolerated. It especially is useful for patients with AF and heart irregularities that require a pacemaker . During the procedure, the surgeon delivers radiofrequency energy to the heart, which creates scars on the areas of the heart that cause the irregular heartbeat. This operation does require doctors to perform a sternotomy. With a sternotomy, surgeons make an 8 to 10 inch incision down your chest, then cut open the breast bone and spread your ribs to access to your heart.
da Vinci® Surgery for Atrial Fibrillation
If your doctor recommends surgery to treat your AF, you may be a candidate for da Vinci Surgery. It is significantly less invasive than traditional open heart surgery since it does not require opening up the chest – a sternotomy and the resulting 8 to 10 inch scar. With da Vinci Surgery, your surgeon operates through several tiny incisions made on the side of the chest with the assistance of da Vinci’s robotic arms.
This creates many potential patient benefits, including:
- Less pain
- Less risk of wound infection
- Less blood loss
- Less scarring
- Faster recovery
- Quicker return to normal activities
da Vinci® Surgery is a breakthrough surgical system that enables surgeons to operate with unmatched precision, 3D-high definition vision and superior control. By overcoming the limitations of traditional open surgery, da Vinci Surgery is revolutionizing cardiac surgery.
As with any surgery, these benefits cannot be guaranteed, as surgery is patient-and procedure specific.
1.“Atrial Fibrillation”, American Heart Association