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Feature Article Electrophysiology Offers Options for Irregular Heartbeats

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Electrophysiologists – the electricians of the heart – are using minimally invasive procedures to fix problems caused by abnormal electrical activity of the heart.

A fairly low-risk procedure called an ablation is a common treatment for irregular heart rhythms caused by atrial fibrillation. It uses radiofrequency or cryo thermal energy to target heart tissues that cause the problem to restore a regular heart rhythm.

“Atrial fibrillation can lead to stroke, heart failure or other health complications,” said Samaritan Electrophysiologist Ross Downey, MD. 

It’s estimated that up to 6.1 million people in the United States have atrial fibrillation.

That’s about 2 percent of the population under age 65, and 9 percent of people over age 65.

“With people living longer, atrial fibrillation is an impending epidemic,” Dr. Downey said.

Already, half of cardiac patients have atrial fibrillation. People with atrial fibrillation experience a range of symptoms. Some barely notice it. For others, it can interfere significantly with quality of life.

Common symptoms include heart palpitations, shortness of breath and weakness.

Medications are typically the first thing doctors try to control atrial fibrillation. When medicine is not working, an ablation is another treatment option.

Atrial fibrillation can’t always be cured, but 70 to 80 percent of patients who have an ablation report improved symptoms.

“Almost always, there is something we can do to improve a person’s condition and symptoms,” said Dr. Downey.