About AF

More than 3M Americans suffer from atrial fibrillation (AF) or a rapid, irregular heart rhythm.  AF is the most common cardiac arrhythmia and the leading cause of stroke and heart failure.  The prevalence of AF dramatically increases with age – men and women who are free of AF have a 1 in 4 subsequent lifetime risk.  The disease is often associated with heart palpitations, chest pain, fainting, and congestive heart failure, although some patients may never experience any symptoms.

There are a number of different types of AF including paroxysmal (AF comes and goes); persistent (AF persists until treatment); and permanent (a normal sinus rhythm cannot be restored).  Causes of AF include structural problems with the heart as well as other conditions such as obesity and high blood pressure.  Although people with AF can live active lives, these patients are at increased risk for other complications including stroke and heart failure.

While current therapies exist for the different types of atrial fibrillation, none represent an ideal treatment due to limited efficacy and undesirable side effects.

Current Therapies

The rapid, irregular heart rhythm associated with atrial fibrillation is caused by abnormal electrical activity within the atrial or upper chambers of the heart.  Current treatments include ablation, cardioversion and pharmacologic therapies, but efficacy is limited. 

One of the most common procedures for treating atrial fibrillation is ablation which maps, localizes and ablates or eliminates the arrhythmia by disrupting the abnormal electrical activity within the heart.  This is done with a catheter that cauterizes or burns through cardiac muscle.  Ablation procedures are lengthy and complex, and only work for a sub-set of patients – those who suffer from only brief episodes of atrial fibrillation (paroxysmal).  Even when ablation procedures are conducted on the ideal patient candidates, complication rates are high with close to 60% of patients being readmitted to the hospital for a second ablation within the first year.  It is estimated that 1 in 1000 will die from procedural complications from ablation.

Another approach to treating atrial fibrillation is cardioversion.  While cardioversion can stop arrhythmia in the short term; in most cases, atrial fibrillation returns.

Anti-arrhythmic drugs are also common treatments, but these can cause a variety of debilitating side effects including nausea, fatigue and dizziness.  Further, even with today’s medications, the chance for a recurrence of atrial fibrillation is high.