Heart Burn (Or Freeze)

A catheter ablation procedure can help prevent dangerous heart arrhythmias

Do the electronics in your home always work perfectly, or are there glitches from time to time? Chances are these electrical systems, especially the older ones, have some hiccups in their operation.

Well remember, your heart has an electrical system too.

Daniel Cobb MD 3“A heart’s normal rhythm means a normal electrical impulse, which utilizes a specialized conduction system that causes the chambers of the heart to contract,” explains Daniel Cobb, MD, cardiologist and electrophysiologist with Cardiology Associates of Savannah and the Advanced Heart Rhythm Center at St. Joseph’s/Candler. “Every time that happens is a heartbeat.”

When a heart’s rhythm isn’t normal—too slow, too fast, irregular—that is called an arrhythmia. Without a proper rhythm, the heart can’t pump blood effectively to the body’s organs. This can cause symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, and episodes of syncope (passing out or feeling like you will pass out).

Some cases of arrhythmia are generally harmless and may even be asymptomatic. However, some cases can be dangerous and possibly lead to stroke or cardiac arrest.

While certain patients can manage their arrhythmia with medication alone, others may benefit from two minimally-invasive options that Dr. Cobb performs: radiofrequency catheter ablation and cryoablation.

“With both types of catheter ablation, we actually map out where the problem is coming from,” Cobb explains. “For radiofrequency ablation, we use a special catheter which cauterizes, or heats up, the tissue. It burns, so to speak, the area where the abnormal rhythm is coming from and makes it unable to conduct electricity, rendering it electrically neutral.”

Dr. Cobb also performs cryoablation for certain types of arrhythmias. In this procedure, a catheter delivers a refrigerant through an inflatable balloon.

“Instead of heating up the tissue, it essentially freezes it,” Cobb says. “By freezing the heart cells where the abnormal rhythm is coming from, it is rendered electrically inactive.”

Dr. Cobb can determine if catheter ablation, or another advanced procedure, is most appropriate for a patient through evaluation and testing in the Advanced Heart Rhythm Center. Patients are often referred by the primary care physician, but sometimes they come for further evaluation after a fast or irregular heartbeat is treated acutely in the ED.

“Our electrophysiology units allow us to monitor a patient’s heart and find where the abnormal rhythm is originating from,” Cobb says. “From there we can determine the next steps for treatment.”