According to the American Heart Association, 2.7 million Americans are living with atrial fibrillation (also called AFib or AF). AFib is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.
A normally functioning heart contracts and relaxes to a regular beat. But in atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly instead of beating effectively to move blood into the ventricles. The risk to people living with AFib, especially if it goes untreated, can be a five times risk for stoke.
Dr. John Keller, Adena Cardiology’s Board-certified Electrophysiologist said symptoms of AFib can vary. “You can feel fluttering, you can feel racing – but some people have more general symptoms like fatigue or shortness of breath. There are a lot of people who don’t have the definite sense that their heart is out of rhythm. They just feel bad, and experience many nonspecific symptoms that go along with that.”
For people with symptoms, Dr. Keller recommends the first step is to see your primary care provider (PCP) to get an actual diagnosis using an electrical recording of the heart’s rhythm, and work with a cardiologist if AFib is suspected.
“AFib is a very common problem that usually requires medicines, blood thinners; and in the last several years there’s a treatment called an ablation to help treat it,” said Dr. Keller.
Now for the first time, patients in our region can stay close to home, having the AFib Cryo Ablation procedure performed in Chillicothe. “We have many patients with this problem,” Dr. Keller said. “After sending a lot of patients to Columbus, we thought it would be nice, and more convenient, to keep them close to home.”
After a lot of planning, intensive training and performing the procedure at hospitals in Pittsburgh, Columbus and San Diego, Dr. Keller and his team are now offering AFib Cryo Ablation at Adena Regional Medical Center. “The idea is to cause scarring in the heart, that will electrically disconnect one part of the heart from the other,” said Dr. Keller. “We’re trying to disconnect from the rest of the heart, the area of the heart where the AFib is happening.”
Ablation is often a good option for patients who have been working with a cardiologist for treatment, and have not been successful in controlling their AFib with medications. The procedure is minimally-invasive and done with general anesthesia.
A cryoballoon is delivered to the heart through a vein in the patient’s groin. Once in the left atria, the physician inflates the balloon and sends a liquid refrigerant into it. This freezes the wall of the pulmonary vein to make that electrical disconnection.
“The process of freezing and thawing creates disruption of the tissues and eventually leads to a scar,” explained Dr. Keller. “A scar can’t conduct electricity, and that’s what we want.”
The procedure and the freezing process don’t cause any change in how the heart functions, the scarring keeps the electricity in the heart from traveling the wrong way. This is what causes arrhythmia.
One of the first patients to have the procedure performed at Adena has a family history of AFib and stroke. Having lost a sibling to stroke, the patient was anxious to have the cryoablation to control AFib symptoms, and ultimately the risk of stroke.
Dr. Keller will host a free talk on Heart Health and AFib on Thursday, April 27, from 6 – 8 p.m. at the Carlisle Building, located at 9 S. Paint Street, Chillicothe. If you or a loved one has a concern or need for more information about heart health and AFib, register now by calling (740) 779-4570.