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October 04, 2011

Patient with A-fib benefits from novel approach to treatment

Loyola physicians at forefront of using ablation for irregular heartbeat

Suzanne Melton was working as an administrative assistant when she felt a disturbing burning sensation in her chest. It was her first symptom of an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation, often called A-fib, is the most common form of irregular heartbeat. More than two million Americans have it, and doctors diagnose about 160,000 new cases each year.

Symptoms can include palpitations, decreased blood pressure, weakness, fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion, shortness of breath and chest pain.

Erratic electrical activity causes the upper chambers of the heart to quiver instead of beating effectively. Not all the blood gets pumped out, and this can lead to the formation of life-threatening clots.

A-fib typically is first treated with drugs. But medications sometimes don't work, or cause significant side effects. Suzanne felt so fatigued she took three-hour naps. So her cardiologist referred her to David Wilber, MD, George M. Eisenberg Professor of Cardiovascular Sciences, Department of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, for a treatment called an ablation. Dr. Wilber is director of Loyola's Cardiovascular Institute and a nationally known researcher in heart rhythm disorders.

In an ablation, an electrophysiologist inserts a catheter (thin tube) through a small incision in the patient's groin and guides it to the heart. The tip of the catheter burns away small areas where erratic electrical signals originate. Loyola has one of the highest-volume programs in the Midwest. Its physicians perform about 500 ablations per year.

Since undergoing the procedure, Suzanne has experienced no more A-fib episodes. "When I feel my pulse, it feels so much stronger than it did before," she said.

The ablation also allowed Suzanne to change medications to eliminate fatigue. "I feel great now," she said. "I can stay up all day. I’m back to my normal sleeping patterns. I'm back to my normal life."

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