Doctors freeze away atrial fibrillation

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Atrial fibrillation affects about 2.7 million Americans. It’s a condition that causes heart palpitations, shortness of breath and dizziness — and if untreated, can be life-threatening. Now, doctors are freezing the problem away.

Terry Smith loves walking and wood-working; but the retired police officer had to slow down when he found out he had an irregular heartbeat.

“I think my heart rate was over 220 at one time.”

Terry had atrial fibrillation — faulty electrical signals caused his heart to beat out of whack. If untreated, a-fib can lead to heart failure or stroke.

“If I can help it, I don’t want to have a stroke.”

When meds fail, radiofrequency ablation is used to heat the heart and destroy tissue that causes the irregularity — but it isn’t always effective.

“One of the most frustrating things is that we were doing these procedures and oftentimes, they weren’t successful.”

Now, instead of heating the heart, Doctor Jeffrey Banker is freezing hearts with cryo-ablation.

“It actually does cure it. It gets rid of the signals and gets rid of the arrhythmia altogether in many patients.”

Doctors thread a catheter through the groin, and inject liquid coolant through a small balloon — freezing the heart tissue. This restores the heart’s rhythm for about 90 percent of patients.

Terry had the procedure and is back to enjoying another one of his pastimes — collecting toy trains.

“I haven’t been in a-fib since I had the procedure, this last one. I’ve been fine.”

Most cryo-ablation patients go home the same day and can resume normal activities the next day. Studies show cryo-ablation is less likely to damage heart tissue than radiofrequency ablation.