Q. What is Atrial fibrillation (AF)?
A. Atrial fibrillation is the most prevalent cardiac rhythm disorder today, with more than six million people affected worldwide. In patients with AF, the heart beats irregularly due to abnormal electrical activity in its upper chambers.
Q. What are the symptoms of AF?
A. Symptoms of AF may include shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, light headedness or fainting, and chest pain. Left untreated, AF can ultimately lead to stroke and heart failure.
Q. What causes AF?
A. AF is caused by conditions that damage or strain the heart muscle, thereby disrupting its normal electrical activity. These include common medical conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), obesity and obstructive sleep apnea. Lifestyle choices that can cause AF include alcohol abuse and smoking.
Q. Who is at risk for AF?
A. AF is most prevalent in people over the age of 65 and tends to affect slightly more men than women. See the causes of AF above for more risk factors.
Q. How is AF diagnosed?
A. AF is best diagnosed with an electrocardiogram (ECG), a test that records the electrical activity of the heart.
Q. What treatments are available for AF?
A. AF is often treated with prescription pharmaceutical drugs; however, these medications have demonstrated poor long-term effectiveness and can cause uncomfortable side effects. Another traditional form of treatment includes invasive “ablation” surgery in which the surgeon creates a series of “lesions,” or burns, on the heart wall in order to stop the abnormal electrical activity and restore normal heart rhythm.
In recent years, the ablation procedure has been able to be performed less invasively with an “ablation catheter,” a long, thin flexible tube that is threaded through the groin to the upper chambers of the heart. However, the catheter ablation procedure has been limited in its safety and effectiveness, as the performing physician (an electrophysiologist) has had no reliable way of determining how much force he or she is applying to the heart wall during lesion creation. If too much force is applied, the catheter tip may damage the heart wall. If too little force is applied, the procedure will not be effective.
This has changed with Endosense’s TactiCath®, the first and only force-sensing ablation catheter.