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Don't Skip a Beat: A New Way to Treat AFib

April 25, 2024

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Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is one of the most common heart rhythm disorders. Roughly five million Americans managing this condition. While the heart is supposed to beat with a steady rhythm, arrhythmias like AFib cause the heart to beat irregularly. With AFib, the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat extremely fast, unevenly and out of sync with the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles). Left untreated, AFib can lead to dangers like blood clots, strokes and heart failure.

Fortunately, Morristown Medical Center is transforming how cardiac arrhythmias, including AFib, are treated with an innovative technique called pulse field ablation (PFA). Jonathan Sussman, MD, a board-certified, fellowship-trained cardiac electrophysiologist with Atlantic Health System, shares more about this heart condition and how patients can now access new treatment options to treat their AFib.

A Novel Approach to Treating Arrhythmias

One of the options offered at Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey is PFA. PFA is an emerging treatment option in the field of cardiac electrophysiology. In the past, AFib has been treated by ablation – a technique that scars the heart tissue that is causing the abnormal rhythm. While often safe, traditional ablation methods use burning or freezing to cause the scarring. This scarring can damage surrounding tissues. Depending on the location of the treatment, ablation may pose a risk to critical parts of the heart.

Now, PFA is being used by doctors as an alternative to ablation for AFib and other cardiac rhythm disorders. Instead of relying on thermal energy, PFA uses electrical pulses that minimize the risk of collateral damage to important structures near the heart. These pulses cause targeted cell death in the heart tissue causing the arrhythmia.

“Just knowing that we expect to see fewer people with any major complications down the road makes a big difference when a patient signs up for a procedure,” says Dr. Sussman. “PFA looks like a technology that is much more selective for the heart muscle that does not pose the same risk to other structures nearby.”

Continuing Innovation in Heart Care

The cardiac electrophysiology specialists at Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute at Morristown Medical Center, part of Atlantic Health System, participated in a clinical trial for PFA and have plans to join another upcoming trial. The cardiac electrophysiology team also collaborates with medical device manufacturers like Medtronic, which received FDA approval for its PFA system.

“The learning curve is not steep for this kind of technology,” says Dr. Sussman. “It is building on what we already do. We have a track record of working well with this technology and bringing that technology to bear.”

As a more efficient procedure, PFA has reduced procedure times compared to traditional ablation techniques. It also has shorter recovery times and less anesthesia exposure, which enhance patient experience and satisfaction. With PFA continuing to expand, Dr. Sussman believes this technique can help drive safer, more precise and effective treatments for patients with rhythm disorders.

While they are excited about the benefits PFA offers to patients, Dr. Sussman and his team are also looking forward to the next innovation in patient care.

“What’s so exciting about these new tools that come along is saying, ‘What’s the problem that they can fix and do they really fix it?’,” says Dr. Sussman. “And then you think back and say, ‘I wish we had this when I took care of that patient, back in 2008.’”

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