By Erika Z. Byrd
Some patients with atrial fibrillation, the most common type of abnormal heartbeat, experience a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath and light-headedness among other symptoms. But many patients with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms at all. Unless diagnosed during an annual exam, the first presentation can be stroke. Atrial fibrillation affects about 1-2 percent of the general population and the risk is much higher in the senior population.
Medical treatment of atrial fibrillation includes drugs to slow the heart rate or regulate rhythm. However, antiarrhythmic drugs can have adverse effects including increased mortality. According to several randomized studies, treating the damaged area with a procedure known as catheter ablation may provide better results than antiarrhythmic or rate-control medications alone.
During catheter ablation, a cardiologist inserts a catheter (a thin flexible tube) into the blood vessel of your groin, arm or neck. A wire inside that catheter is connected to a special machine that can generate radio frequency energy at its very tip. Using sophisticated technology, the cardiologist can navigate to the places on the heart that are causing the electrical signals to misfire. The radio frequency energy heats the problem cells and deactivates them. Electrical signals can then move normally through the heart and a regular rhythm can be restored.
This summer, Desert Regional Medical Center will be the first hospital in the Coachella Valley to offer robotic catheter ablation, in which the physician controls the catheter remotely using a magnetic guidance system that offers a very high degree of precision.
Fellowship-trained electrophysiologist Hetal Bhakta, MD will be the physician to use the new equipment, called the Epoch system by Stereotaxis. Dr. Bhakta currently performs over 100 catheter ablations per year. “This technology is the most advanced and cutting-edge treatment available for atrial fibrillation today,” said Dr. Bhakta.
Published studies have suggested this new magnetic navigation technology is up to 10 times safer than manual catheter ablation which has been in mainstream practice for the past decade. Magnetic navigation outcomes have been reported with an even lower complication rate of 0.34 percent compared to 3.2 percent with manual catheter ablation.
“When people first start having symptoms, they need to see a physician right away. They can take medication and wait and see how that works, but really, it’s best to do the ablation early because there is less circuitry damage,” said Dr. Bhakta. “If we treat it at the beginning, there is just one area to treat. If you let it run rampant, you run the risk of having other circuits that are damaged. If we treat early, we’ve virtually taken care of the problem – it’s a cure instead of an ongoing treatment.”
Desert Regional Medical Center
1150 N. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262