(Courtesy of SMGH) Maybe that fluttering of your heart isn’t because the love of your life entered the room. Or maybe that shortness of breath, fatigue or anxiety are not caused by being locked up at home every day. A heartbeat that’s too slow, too fast or otherwise irregular may be Atrial Fibrillation (A-fib)1 which can be debilitating and even deadly if not treated.
A-fib, affects as many as one in 16 adults in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. The condition causes blood to pool and form blood clots in the heart’s upper chambers. This increases the risk of stroke, ultimately causing long-term damage to the heart, brain or other organs and potentially leading to death or permanent disability.
Thanks to the Prime Healthcare regional network of hospitals—St. Mary’s General Hospital in Passaic, Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark and Saint Clare’s Health in Denville and Dover—patients are overcoming potentially dangerous heartbeat irregularities to live healthy, fulfilling lives.
“At Prime Healthcare, we take pride not only in our ability to achieve a ‘cure,’ but also in the process we use to determine which treatment approach would most benefit each patient,” said Atul Prakash, M.D., director of electrophysiology at St. Mary’s General Hospital in Passaic and Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, and regional director of electrophysiology services for Prime Healthcare. “We have a very thorough, honest discussion of each option with our patients, and ultimately leave the decision to them, because we believe it’s always the patient’s choice.”
As a first-line treatment, patients with A-fib may receive prescription medication or over-the-counter aspirin to prevent blood from clotting. A blood thinner may be added for some patients. If the patient is still at high risk of a stroke despite medication, the electrophysiologist will surgically destroy the diseased heart tissue, usually by burning or freezing it in a procedure called ablation. The electrophysiologist inserts catheters through the blood vessels and to the heart while the patient is under local anesthesia. Using a miniature camera attached to the catheter combined with high-resolution monitors and mapping technology, the electrophysiologist can pinpoint and treat the source of the arrhythmia. The procedure usually takes two to four hours.
Thanks to technological advances in imaging and surgical techniques, ablation is more precise and effective than ever. “Ablation allows us to eradicate many abnormalities, including Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome (a disorder that causes a rapid heartbeat) and other electrical disorders not necessarily connected to heart disease,” Prakash said. “We perform several ablations every week at Prime Healthcare hospitals, as well as ablations for tachycardia (an abnormally fast heart rate) and supraventricular tachycardia. Most patients go home the same day.”
If ablation does not resolve a patient’s arrhythmia, the electrophysiologist can try a different treatment approach. The Watchman left atrial appendage closure implant is designed to keep blood from thickening within the heart, eliminating the need for blood thinners and other medications.
“With A-fib, blood clots form in the heart’s left atrial appendage, but the Watchman device plugs up the appendage to prevent blood from traveling there and keep clots from forming,” said Prakash, who launched St. Mary’s General Hospital’s highly successful Watchman program. “With Watchman, the risk of stroke is reduced as effectively as with blood thinners, and there are no side effects if the device is placed properly.”
Patients whose arrhythmia has not responded to conventional treatments may be candidates for a defibrillator, an implanted device, similar to a pacemaker, that monitors and resets the heart if it starts beating too slowly or quickly.
Defibrillator implantation usually is performed within two hours, and patients are placed under moderate sedation rather than full anesthesia for the procedure. After the procedure, patients should restrict their activities for three to four weeks, after which patients can do anything they did before, with an overall improvement in the condition of their heart. Defibrillators last from five to 13 years and are then changed for a new battery and chip.
For a patient whose heart beats too slowly or stops, a pacemaker can be a lifesaving treatment option. The pacemaker comprises two parts—a battery-operated generator, implanted under the skin in the chest, that generates electrical pulses and electrodes, which are one to three flexible wires placed in the chamber of the heart that deliver the pulses to control the heart’s regular electrical rhythm.
Prime Healthcare cardiologists have vast experience in pacemaker therapy and use the latest pacemaker technologies to ensure optimal outcomes.
“Both St. Mary’s General Hospital2 and Saint Michael’s Medical Center have a long history of expertise in cardiac management, surgery and electrophysiology services and in delivering improved survival and quality of life,” said Joaquim Correia, M.D., chief of cardiology at Saint Michael’s Medical Center. “Our experience and cutting-edge technology enable us to provide state-of-the-art services and safe, excellent outcomes.”
Prime Healthcare is an award-winning health system that operates 46 hospitals and more than 300 outpatient locations in 14 states, providing over 2.6 million patient visits annually. It is one of the nation’s leading health systems, with nearly 50,000 employees and physicians dedicated to providing the highest quality health care and has donated more than $2 billion to charity!
Prime Healthcare has been named “The Fastest Growing Hospital System” in the country by Modern Healthcare and is a unique physician-founded and physician-driven health system with doctors and clinicians leading the organization at every level. Healthgrades has recognized Prime Healthcare hospitals with more than 300 achievements for clinical excellence in a variety of specialties, including more Patient Safety Excellence Award recipients for five consecutive years (2016-2020) than any other health system in the country.
To learn more about Prime Healthcare’s cardiology services or to schedule an appointment, call 973-576-5320 or visit https://heartnj.primehealthcare.com/
1 Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation (per AHA): general fatigue, rapid and irregular heartbeat, fluttering or “thumping” in the chest, dizziness, shortness of breath and anxiety, weakness, faintness or confusion, fatigue when exercising, sweating, chest pain or pressure.