Atrial Fibrillation Program offers novel approaches to treat a common condition


Joseph Akar, MD, studies a three-dimensional image in the Heart and Vascular Center Cardiac Electrophysiology Laboratory.

There’s nothing exotic about atrial fibrillation – in fact, it’s the second most common cardiac condition in the United States. Yet new treatments continue to emerge for this heart rhythm disorder, several of which are available through Yale New Haven Hospital’s Atrial Fibrillation Program.

The program’s electrophysiologists recently began offering two advances in treating atrial fibrillation (AFib), which occurs when the two upper chambers of the heart (atria) experience irregular electrical signals that yield an abnormally fast or slow heartbeat. Stroke is a major AFib risk, because blood is not moving through the heart properly and can form clots.

For years, physicians have used catheter ablation to treat AFib and atrial flutter, a similar condition. A catheter is inserted into the patient’s groin and guided through blood vessels to the heart, where electrodes deliver extreme heat or cold to destroy the areas causing irregular signals.

Previously, electrophysiologists used X-ray fluoroscopy to view the catheter while guiding it, which exposed patients to 20 to 30 minutes of radiation. They now use ultrasound and 3-D mapping technology, eliminating nearly all radiation.

In addition, YNHH electrophysiologists are using a new, specially designed probe during ablation to measure the temperature in a patient’s esophagus, which is directly behind the heart. While esophagus damage is rare, it can result in serious complications, even death. Most probes measure the temperature in one part of the esophagus at a time; the new probe uses infrared thermography to measure the temperature throughout the esophagus all at once, in real time.

“Other medical centers use ultrasound and this special probe, but few use both,” said Joseph Akar, MD, PhD, director, YNHH Heart and Vascular Center Cardiac Electrophysiology Laboratory. “This novel approach to a common atrial fibrillation treatment reduces the risk of complications while allowing us to achieve positive patient outcomes.”

The Atrial Fibrillation Program also treats atrial flutter and related heart abnormalities using treatments such as rhythm control and anticoagulant medications and advanced surgical procedures.

“Our primary goals are to provide the best care and optimal outcomes for our patients,” said James Freeman, MD, Atrial Fibrillation Program codirector. “At the same time, our electrophysiologists participate in clinical trials and conduct laboratory research to help pioneer new treatments for cardiac arrhythmias.”

To learn more or make an appointment, call the Atrial Fibrillation Program, 203-785-4126.