Treating Atrial Fibrillation
Any kind of abnormal heart rhythm is referred to as an arrhythmia, and the most common arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation, affecting more than 2.5 million Americans. With atrial fibrillation, the heart's upper chambers beat irregularly, affecting blood flow to the heart muscle and to the rest of the body, which can cause blood clots, as well as stroke. The Arrhythmia Program at the University of Michigan has been a national and international leader in the treatment of this common yet life-threatening condition for more than 30 years. We have the experience to perform the most complex procedures and the research and technology to offer the newest treatments available.
Download the University of Michigan Electrophysiology Service’s “The Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation” PDF.
There are two types of arrhythmias: atrial arrhythmia and ventricular arrhythmia.
Atrial arrhythmia, also called supraventricular arrhythmia, begins in the upper chambers of the heart and includes:
- Atrial Fibrillation – a disorganized rhythm in the atria
- Atrial flutter – caused by a rapid rhythm in the upper chambers
- Sick sinus syndrome – the heart’s pacemaker doesn’t fire properly, slowing the heart rate down
- Sinus tachycardia – the heart rate speeds up due to fast electrical signals in the sinus node
- Sinus bradycardia – the electrical signals in the sinus node are either blocked or slow down
Abnormal electrical impulses in the upper chambers of the heart cause atrial arrhythmia. People with atrial arrhythmias often feel tired and sluggish, as well as a flutter in their chest or throat.
Ventricular arrhythmia is the more life-threatening arrhythmia. It begins in the lower chambers of the heart and includes:
- Ventricular tachycardia – a rapid rhythm that can prevent the heart from filling up with enough blood
- Ventricular fibrillation – a disorganized firing of impulses from the ventricles
- Long QT Syndrome – the heart muscle taking too long to contract and recover
Abnormal electrical impulses in the lower chambers of the heart cause ventricular arrhythmia, which interrupts blood flow from the heart to other parts of the body. People with ventricular arrhythmias can feel palpitations, along with chest pain, difficulty breathing and excessive sweating. Ventricular arrhythmia can be life threatening.
Many people can be treated by medication alone, and a number of treatments for arrhythmia are outpatient-based. Not all abnormal heart rhythms are life threatening, but they should all be investigated so proper treatments are given. We offer a variety of treatment options, depending on the condition of the patient, including:
- Drug therapy - such as blood thinners, beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers
- Implantable cardiac defibrillator – an implantable device that uses electrical pulses to help control abnormal heart rhythms
- Electrical cardioversion – delivers an electric shock to the chest wall, using an external defibrillator, in order to restore a normal heart rhythm
- Pacemaker – an implanted device that delivers painless electric pulses that stimulate the heart to beat
- Catheter ablation – a minimally invasive catheter-based surgery intended to cure atrial defibrillation, using radiofrequency energy to cauterize the “short circuits” that are generating the atrial fibrillation.
All arrhythmias can potentially be treated with an ablation. Some may need an implantable device, such as a pacemaker or an implantable cardiac defibrillator. Sometimes a catheter-based ablation may be required, which is done through a small incision in the leg, allowing for a shorter recovery time and no chest incision. Our specialists perform approximately 1,000 catheter ablations each year and have conducted extensive studies that prove its long-term effectiveness.
An implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) is a small battery-powered electrical impulse generator, which is implanted in patients who are at risk of sudden cardiac death due to ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia. The device is programmed to detect cardiac arrhythmia and correct it by delivering a jolt of electricity. It also can be used as a pacemaker. Our team educates each patient on its function, what it’s supposed to do for you, and when it may not be functioning properly.
Center for Arrhythmia Research
At the University of Michigan, our ability to treat arrhythmia is more powerful than ever with the addition of the Center for Arrhythmia Research. By 2020, we estimate there will be 6 million Americans with atrial fibrillation, as the population grows older. To treat such a high volume of people, the Center is looking at viable options other than ablation to treat this condition. While ablation helps some people, those with chronic atrial fibrillation are very difficult to treat, so we’re working with cutting-edge technologies to utilize the molecule to find other options.
We have been successful generating heart cells from the skin cells of humans. We reprogram the skin cells to become stem cells. Once they are stem cells, we modify their genetic makeup so they become heart cells. Therefore we can generate heart cells from a patient with an abnormal heart rhythm and study the molecular mechanisms of those cells. This is a very exciting breakthrough with many future possibilities.
These are just samples of many studies currently going on at The Center for Arrhythmia Research. For more information, visit www.med.umich.edu/arrhythmia_research.
Make an Appointment
To make an appointment to discuss your heart arrhythmia, contact us toll-free at 888-287-1082 or email us at CVCCallCtr@med.umich.edu.