Washington: Scientists have now discovered a technique to regularise abnormal heartbeats.
A new freezing technology, called cryoablation, has shown promising results in normalising heartbeats after being tried out at Baylor Jack and Jane Hamilton Heart and Vascular Hospital.
Some 2.5 million Americans alone suffer from abnormal heartbeats or atrial fibrillation, which causes deadly strokes.
"It appears the major complication rate is lower with cryoablation, and patients seem to tolerate it better," said Manish Assar, cardiac electrophysiologist at the Baylor Hospital who conducted the procedure.
Currently, one of the several methods to regularise heartbeats is catheter ablation, a minimally invasive surgical option, which uses heat technology to treat the problem at the source, according to a Baylor statement.
A catheter is a long, thin, plastic-coated wire with several metal contacts on it - is guided into the heart after the physician has determined the type of arrhythmia (abnormal heart rate and rhythm).
Its most common side effects are those encountered with any IV insertion, including bleeding at the site when the catheter is removed, infection, blood clot formation within the vessel, and bleeding under the skin with formation of a hematoma (collection of blood).
Irregular beats involving the heart often obscure the threat to the brain. Their symptoms are shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, and dizziness or light-headedness. Irregular beats could be instrumental in the formation of blood clots in the heart, which break off and travel to the brain, blocking major vessels, resulting in a stroke.
"Atrial fibrillation is responsible for 15 to 20 percent of strokes," said Assar.
"The strokes that are a result of atrial fibrillation are large and have higher mortality than other strokes and higher rates of serious disability than other strokes."
"One of the biggest misconceptions about atrial fibrillation that I hear from patients is that if they can`t feel it, they don`t have it," said Assar.
"But the diagnosis is made through an EKG (ECG), and if the EKG says they have atrial fibrillation, they have it."
While many patients exhibit no symptoms, that wasn`t the case for Doug Gerber.
"Over time my heartbeat had become irregular. It would race to over 150 or slow down to under 50," he explained.
"It would pound so hard that I could see it beating through my shirt."
After attempting to control his erratic beats though medication, Gerber sought a more permanent solution, which he received at Baylor.
"My electrophysiologist understood exactly what was happening and recommended cryoablation," he said. Since the procedure, Gerber and his family have been able to look to the future without worrying about his heart.
Atrial fibrillation can strike at any age, but it is most prevalent in the elderly. No matter how old a patient is or whether or not they exhibit any symptoms, atrial fibrillation can lead to other serious health problems.