Health Alert: Atrial fibrillation

NATIONAL - The condition is called atrial fibrillation. It causes an irregular heartbeat. More than two million Americans are affected by this each year, and if left untreated it can be deadly. Surgeons can now treat the condition with even more precision thanks to new robotic technology.

As an avid golfer and a former marathon runner, having a heart attack and later developing atrial fibrillation was the last thing Bill Turpin ever expected. He experienced "irregular heartbeat and an increase in the rate. It would get very fast, like up to 177-80 beats a minute. It very definitely got your attention."

During atrial fibrillation, or a-fib, the heart's two upper chambers quiver instead of beat normally. Blood doesn't pump effectively and creates the risk of a blood clot or stroke.

To correct Bill's condition, surgeons performed an ablation procedure to create small lesions in the heart. Dr. Joseph Gallinghouse says, "Ablation lesions have to be very precise. We have to have excellent catheter contact to create a full thickness lesion in the heart and understand that we're moving this catheter, this four millimeter-tipped catheter around in the beating heart."

Dr. Gallinghouse uses a new, high-tech device called the Hansen robot. He sits a few feet away at the control panel and is able to create lesions by guiding the robot's precision arm. "We can actually turn the catheter up to 270 degrees, which is a significant improvement over what we've had in the past."

Patients who have robot-assisted surgery typically have a faster recovery, with less pain and blood loss. Bill's had a full recovery and that means more time to improve his golf game.

Right now, there are several of the robots at work in the United States.

Posted by Chantelle Janelle