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Surgical Ablation for Atrial Fibrillation

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The heart maintains a normal heart rhythm created through its own electrical system, atrial fibrillation is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm. With atrial fibrillation, electrical impulses don’t follow a normal pathway through the heart. As a result, the heart beats erratically and hence doesn’t pump properly or pump blood correctly. When associated with heart valve problems, this becomes a serious condition that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart attack, heart failure, chronic fatigue, and even death.

Atrial fibrillation is common in patients who have undergone open heart surgery and heart valve surgery, and is difficult to cure. People with valve disease often go on to develop atrial fibrillation, or even a weakened heart. Traditional heart valve surgery can help in preventing further heart damage, but valve repair combined with surgical ablation can also correct the atrial fibrillation. Presently, electrophysiology is being used to treat atrial fibrillation but repeat treatment is usually necessary. Attempts at curing atrial fibrillation with drugs are often disappointing.

Surgical ablation involves the use of radiofrequency waves (modified electrical energy) to create precise scar lines on the heart’s surface. These scars redirect the erratic electrical impulses of atrial fibrillation to follow a normal electrical pathway through the heart. Surgical ablation can be performed in conjunction with other heart surgeries, such as mitral valve repair or coronary artery bypass, but is also sometimes performed as a stand-alone procedure for patients with atrial fibrillation.

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Surgical ablation for atrial fibrillation offers the following benefits to patients: 75 to 90 percent cure rate of atrial fibrillation; reduction in risk of blood clots and stroke; fewer or no symptoms related to abnormal heart rhythms; reduction or discontinuation of blood thinners; reduction or discontinuation of anti-arrhythmic drugs; most patients who have had the procedure report an ability to exercise more frequently and for longer periods of time; In some cases, the procedure will reduce the size of the atria, therefore lessening the risk for other complications, such as heart failure.

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