Each year, approximately two million people die in the U.S. – half of those as a result of heart disease. The DMC Cardiovascular Institute is doing everything it can to change this startling statistic.
One of their new groundbreaking procedures is called cryo ablation, and it’s used to treat patients who suffer from atrial fibrillation. This happens when the upper chambers of the heart start beating faster than the lower ones. The upper chambers beat at 300 to 400 times a minute and the lower chambers try to catch up, reaching 170 to 180 beats a minute.
Don Muirhead endured this dangerous condition for 12 years before being treated for it at Detroit Medical Center.
"I couldn’t go anywhere, couldn’t do anything. I would get winded very easy, just climbing the stairs, and then all of sudden, you’re sitting there and your heart starts fluttering; you know you’re going into atrial fib."
Don’s atrial fibrillation kept coming back, sometimes lasting five minutes, sometimes as long as eight hours. Afterward, he felt completely wiped out – as though he had just run a marathon.
As DMC Heart Specialist Dr. Randy Lieberman explains, when the heart beats abnormally, blood doesn’t flow properly, and that can lead to some serious consequences.
"Number one, it puts patients at an increased risk for stroke. Number two, when your heart is palpitating these irregular skipped beats can give you symptoms like shortness of breath and tiredness. And third, it makes the lower chambers beat so fast that the muscles get weak."
Dr. Lieberman and his team at the DMC Cardiovascular Institute are the only ones in Michigan using cryo ablation technology to treat atrial fibrillation. The procedure has a higher success rate and lower risk for complications that the old procedure, which involved cauterizing – or burning – the parts of the heart that cause atrial fibrillation. The heat used in cauterization could create ulcers in the esophagus, which are potentially lethal. It’s a rare complication, but it limited the procedure. In addition, the position of the esophagus in many patients resulted in an incomplete procedure.
During the minimally invasive cryo ablation procedure, a balloon is inserted using a catheter. Once the balloon is positioned, liquid nitrogen is pumped into the balloon. The balloon inflates and freezes the walls just outside the blood vessel.
Depending on the location, it can take from five seconds to five minutes of this freezing technique. The area is then thawed, and re-treated.
Patients who undergo this procedure stay in the hospital overnight and within two or three days, they are back to normal activities. For Don Muirhead, having the procedure meant returning to an active, fulfilling life.
"Once they do the procedure, in a little while you can get off all those medications. I feel good."
Cryo ablation is a small procedure that can mean the difference between life and death for many Americans – especially the high number of people who die from cardiovascular disease each year.
Click here to learn more about atrial fibrillation.
To request an appointment with Dr. Randy Lieberman, visit his
online profile, or call 888-DMC-2500.