Ice Cold Heart Therapy

Atrial fibrillation affects about 2.7 million Americans. It’s a condition that causes heart palpitations, shortness of breath and dizziness. If left untreated, it can be life-threatening. Now doctors are freezing the problem away.

Terry Smith loves walking and wood-working, but the retired police officer had to slow down when he found out he had an irregular heartbeat. “I think my heart rate was over 220 at one time.” Smith told us.

He had atrial fibrillation; faulty electrical signals caused his heart to beat out of whack. If untreated, A-fib can lead to heart failure or stroke.

When meds fail, radiofrequency ablation is used to heat the heart and destroy tissue that causes the irregularity, but it isn’t always effective.

Instead of heating the heart, Dr. Jeffrey Banker, a Heart Rhythm Specialist at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, is now freezing hearts with cryo-ablation. “It actually does cure it. It gets rid of the signals and gets rid of the arrhythmia altogether in many patients.” Banker told us.

Doctors thread a catheter through the groin and inject liquid coolant through a small balloon, freezing the heart tissue. This restores the heart’s rhythm for about 90 percent of patients.
Terry Smith had the procedure and is back to enjoying another one of his pastimes; collecting toy trains.

“I haven’t been in A-fib since I had the procedure, this last one. I’ve been fine.” Smith said. Meaning he can focus less on his health and more on his hobbies.

Most cryo-ablation patients go home the same day and can resume normal activities the next day.

Studies show cryo-ablation is less likely to damage heart tissue than radiofrequency ablation.

BACKGROUND: Atrial Fibrillation (A-fib) occurs when disorganized signals cause the heart’s upper chambers to contract rapidly. Blood begins to build up in the atria and doesn’t get moved to the ventricles properly. This leads to the upper and lower chambers of the heart not functioning together and can cause heart palpitations, shortness of breath and stroke if not treated. A problem with a heart rate or heartbeat is called an arrhythmia and A-fib is considered the most common of all arrhythmias. A-fib is not always a short-term disorder, but could linger into a condition that lasts for years and most commonly affects those who have high blood pressure, rheumatic heart disease and coronary heart disease. Obesity, diabetes and lung disease are also risk factors for developing A-fib. (Source:

TREATMENT: There are a number of treatment options for those living with atrial fibrillation including lifestyle changes and medications. In order to decrease the risk of stroke, blood clot prevention takes place. Doctors recommend blood thinners like aspirin, heparin and dabigatran to keep blood from clotting in the atria of the heart. Medications to control heart rate are another way people can fight A-fib. Rate control medications slow down the beating of the ventricles and bring the heart rate down to normal levels and are commonly recommended by doctors for people dealing with A-fib. (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGY: A new procedure is using cryo-ablation to fix irregular heartbeats. In the past, radiofrequency ablation was used to destroy faulty tissue in the heart that was causing irregularity, but now doctors are claiming that cold therapy using cryo-ablation may be more effective. The cryo-ablation procedure uses a balloon technology to block an arrhythmia by using coolant through a catheter that runs from the groin area to the heart. This freezing method can be tested for its effectiveness before any permanent scarring is done to the arrhythmia site. (Source:

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