New procedure offers first FDA-approved treatment for persistent AFib patients

This content is sponsored by MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is the most common type of irregular heartbeat with at least 2.7 million Americans affected, according to the American Heart Association. Two MedStar Health hospitals are offering the first FDA-approved treatment that helps give patients with persistent AFib the best outcomes.

AFib is an irregular heartbeat that occurs when a heart has lost its healthy rhythm. The abnormal firing of electrical impulses causes the atria (the top chambers in the heart) to quiver (or fibrillate), the American Heart Association explains.

If not properly treated, AFib can lead to blood clots, stroke or other heart-related complications. It can also lead to sudden death.

The most common symptom of AFib is a quivering or fluttering heartbeat. Sometimes people with AFib have no symptoms and it’s only detectable during a physical examination. Others people may experience symptoms such as: fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath and anxiety, weakness, sweating or chest pain.

Long-standing, persistent atrial fibrillation, also known as LSPAF, is a particularly challenging form of this condition to treat, said Dr. Zayd Eldadah, Director of Cardiac Electrophysiology at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. LSPAF is when the heart is consistently in an irregular rhythm that lasts longer than 12 months, the American Heart Association noted. About 45 percent of AFib patients cope with LSPAF, Dr. Eldadah said.

“Historically, patients with LSPAF have been challenging to treat, and about half suffer from progressively worsening symptoms,” Dr. Eldadah said.

Now, two MedStar Health hospitals — MedStar Washington Hospital Center and MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore – offer a procedure that is a “breakthrough treatment for [LSPAF] patients,” Dr. Eldadah said. The procedure, Hybrid AF™ Convergent Therapy, is a minimally invasive, two-part ablation procedure. MedStar Health physicians participated in the landmark CONVERGE™ trial, which provided the key data for FDA approval of this treatment in April 2021.

“This hybrid procedure will help improve the lives of millions of patients with severe AFib, and we are thrilled that we now have a new arsenal in our toolbox to treat what was once a very difficult disease,” Dr. Eldadah said.

The procedure uses heat to stop the erratic electrical signals that cause AFib and restore a normal heart rhythm.

During the procedure, a cardiac surgeon performs the first part by making a small incision under the breastbone, which creates access to the heart and then creates lesions or scar tissue on the back walls of the heart. An electrophysiologist then gains access to the inside of the heart and blood vessels through the groin, to deliver therapeutic energy to areas of the heart to destroy the abnormal electrical activity.

“Hybrid A-F Convergent Therapy is a breakthrough treatment that allows us to deliver therapy from both inside and outside the heart, improving the effectiveness,” said Christian Shults, a cardiac surgeon at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “By working together, in most cases we’re able to stop or significantly reduce the amount of AFib these patients experience.  Since this is a minimally invasive procedure, the hospital stays are much shorter, and the recovery time is quicker for patients.  We have performed more than 300 of these procedures, more than any other institution in the Mid-Atlantic.”

MedStar Health has offered convergent therapy for the last decade, and the recent FDA approval has moved the Hybrid AF™ Convergent Therapy to the forefront of treatment options.

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