Mayo Clinic Heart Specialists Use Cold Therapy to Treat Atrial Fibrillation

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Now, a recently approved therapy that uses a freezing balloon to treat atrial fibrillation is available at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla.


The new technology, known as cryoablation, was tested at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and Jacksonville, Fla., and at 25 other medical centers around the United States that were part of a clinical study that led to FDA approval of the procedure in December 2010. Mayo Clinic in Rochester was the first facility to begin offering the procedure.


Mayo Clinic doctors in Jacksonville are now offering the minimally-invasive ablation technique, which uses a coolant rather than heat to create a circle of lesions around the inside of the pulmonary vein, where it connects to the heart’s left atrium, to block the irregular electrical current that causes atrial fibrillation. A deflated balloon is introduced through a catheter and then inflated and frozen in the treatment area.

“The new technique reduces procedure time compared to heat ablation and probably reduces the risk of stroke because we spend less time in the left atrium,” says Fred Kusumoto, M.D., a cardiologist who specializes in electrophysiology at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla.


The procedure can be used in patients who no longer benefit from drug therapy to control their irregular heartbeat. The best medications available are only effective 50 percent of the time, says Dr. Kusumoto, so this is a viable alternative. The clinical study involved 245 patients. Out of that group, 69.9 percent of patients were free from atrial fibrillation with the new technique, compared to 7.3 percent of patients treated only with medication.


Atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and affects more than 3 million Americans. It is the most common arrhythmia in African Americans, Hispanics and women. It can increase one’s chances of stroke and heart attack, and it poses particular risks for people who already have diabetes or high blood pressure.


“We are hoping that in the long-run cryoablation will be a procedure that can restore normal heartbeat with fewer risks and complications,” says Dr. Kusumoto.


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