CHICAGO — Using a new visually guided laser balloon device, cardiologists at Rush University Medical Center are able to more precisely treat atrial fibrillation, the most common heart rhythm disorder.
Rush is one of the first medical centers in Illinois to offer the technology, known as the HeartLight Endoscopic Ablation System, which allows cardiologists to see inside a beating heart while delivering laser energy during catheter ablation. Ablation is a treatment used to restore normal heart rhythm when medication no longer works.
Rush has been designated as a center of excellence and is a leading national training site for the HeartLight system.
Looking deep into the heart
An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat — the heart can beat too fast, too slow or at an irregular pace. Atrial fibrillation, which affects 2.3 million people in the United States, occurs if rapid, disorganized electrical signals cause the heart's two upper chambers, or atria, to beat very fast and irregularly. In addition to causing uncomfortable symptoms, atrial fibrillation, if left untreated, can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.
The current standard of treatment for atrial fibrillation is medication to reduce symptoms and to keep arrhythmias under control. When medications no longer work, one treatment option for patients suffering from atrial fibrillation is a procedure called ablation, which uses electrical energy or radiofrequency to destroy or scar certain heart tissue to block the erratic electrical signals responsible for triggering atrial fibrillation
Electrophysiologists — cardiologists who treat the heart’s electrical system — must use X-rays and magnetic imaging to help guide a traditional catheter ablation system to the estimated location of the irregular impulses. By now allowing electrophysiologists to see within the heart, HeartLight enables them to more accurately pinpoint and apply laser heat at the precise area where the extra electrical signals are being produced.
HeartLight may reduce need for additional procedures
“What makes this device unique is its ability to allow doctors to directly see inside the heart in real time while performing the ablation, ultimately this advantage may reduce the likelihood that a patient will need a repeat procedure,” said Dr. Henry Huang, an electrophysiologist at Rush and a national physician proctor for the HeartLight ablation procedure. “Traditional ablation does not provide direct visual guidance and the HeartLight’s endoscopically guided approach provides increased confidence that ablation is being performed safely and at the right place at all times.”
The HeartLight System incorporates an endoscope, a small camera that allows cardiologists to see inside a beating heart on a monitor.
Using a thin, flexible tube known as a catheter, an electrophysiologist inserts a visually guided laser balloon device, which — for the first time — allows the physician to see within the heart and more accurately apply laser heat energy outside of the pulmonary vein, the precise area where the extra electrical signals are being produced. Once treated, the area can no longer conduct fast, irregular impulses and the heart may return to a normal rhythm.
“The development of atrial fibrillation ablation technologies over the past 20 years has been a constant exercise to build a better mousetrap,” Huang said. “The goal has been to improve patient outcomes, reducing the need for repeat procedures and to reduce procedure times.”
Past research studies indicate that at least two-thirds of patients who received a single ablation procedure using the HeartLight System remained free from paroxysmal atrial fibrillation after 12 months.