Case Study: A Catheter Ablation Approach to Atrial Fibrillation

In recent posts, we’ve presented various case studies and examples of patients suffering from atrial fibrillation (A-fib). We’ve seen how debilitating this condition can be, and how severely it can affect a patient’s quality of life.

In this post, we’ll take a glimpse into the life of a Georgia 55-year-old school administrator who developed A-fib over a two-year period, causing him to suffer from fatigue, shortness of breath, and a decreased ability to exercise.

His local physicians made every effort to restore the rhythm of his heart through the use of anti-arrhythmic drugs—unfortunately; the medication generated side effects that necessitated the placement of a pacemaker implant.

When the patients’ A-fib continued to reoccur, the physicians realized that the drug therapy was failing and decided to pursue a course of rate control and anticoagulation therapy. This attempt failed to alleviate the symptoms as well, which prompted his local cardiologist to refer him to Emory University Hospital Midtown to be evaluated for catheter ablation.

Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that doesn’t involve open-heart surgery, making it a viable option for patients suffering from A-fib. In our patient’s case, it was the ideal solution for his condition—which is why in February of 2010 he underwent the procedure for treatment of his arrhythmia.

Catheter ablation involves threading catheters through the blood vessels towards the heart, which destroys (or ablates) the abnormal heart tissue that causes the condition. We performed the ablation on our patient using conscious sedation, and achieved femoral vein access with catheterization into the patient’s left atrium. Electro-anatomic mapping guided the irrigated-catheter ablation system.

The procedure was completed in less than three hours, and our patient was discharged the following morning. He was able to return to normal activity two days later. After the ablation, we continued to keep him on anti-arrhythmic medication for a month.

At his 3-month and 6-month follow-up visits, he showed no signs of A-fib, and we were able to discontinue the use of the anti-arrhythmic drugs. Today, our patient says that he feels “great”, and he continues to be completely free of atrial arrhythmia and its symptoms.

When anti-arrhythmic drugs fail to alleviate the symptoms of A-fib, catheter ablation is an advantageous alternative. While the procedure works best for patients with recurring A-fib, it can also make sense for A-fib cases without the presence of significant heart disease. Further, recent pilot studies have revealed that catheter ablation is superior to medication as the primary form of therapy for A-fib.

Do you have questions about this procedure, or about A-fib in general? If so, please let me know in the comments section.

About Angel Leon, MD:

Dr. Leon is a Professor of Medicine and the Chief of Cardiology at Emory University Midtown. His specialties include electrophysiology, cardiology, and internal medicine, and his areas of clinical interest include arrhythmia ablation, electrophysiology lab, and pacemaker. Dr. Leon holds organizational leadership memberships with the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, and he’s been practicing with Emory since 1991.

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