Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Atrial fibrillation and the Mini-Maze

Harry Whittington, the 78-year old lawyer who was accidentally shot by the Vice President over the weekend, suffered "atrial fibrillation" (a particular type of irregular heart rhythm) and a "minor heart attack."

Atrial fibrillation can be controlled. Dr. Calvin Weisberger, a regional chief of cardiology for Kaiser Permanente, about 8% to 10% of people over age 80 have a history of atrial fibrillation. Mr. Whittington's atrial fibrillation could be due to his age, the stress of the accident, or the biochemical response of the heart to the pellet.

There's a new procedure to treat atrial fibrillation, a rhythm that, though benign, can increase one's risk of stroke and may cause fatigue and a loss of well-being.

The maze procedure can cure atrial fibrillation by creating barriers to the electrical pathways, in the form of scar tissue, in the atria (the heart's upper chambers).

In the procedure, the surgeon creates multiple cuts into the atria muscle in an intricate pattern, or maze, and then stitches the incisions together to produce scars. Because the scars do not carry electrical signals, they interfere with stray electrical impulses that cause atrial fibrillation and, as a result, allow the heart to restore a regular, coordinated heartbeat.

What was once an open-heart procedure may be no longer. For here comes the mini-maze, the new minimially invasive maze procedure.

  • Read an interview with the inventor of the mini-maze.
  • Television segment on the mini-maze.
  • Webcast of the mini-maze procedure.

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