MAZE: A Surgical Cure for Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is the most common serious heart rhythm disturbance in the United States. It occurs when the heart’s two small upper chambers (the atria) “quiver” instead of beating effectively because of abnormal electrical activity.
Many patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) have no symptoms and are unaware of the abnormal heart rhythm. Palpitations, an uncomfortable sensation of a rapid and irregular heartbeat, are the most common symptom of atrial fibrillation. Other symptoms include dizziness, fainting, weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath and angina (chest pain due to reduced blood flow to the heart muscles). Heart failure and stroke are two of the serious complications of AF.
The American Heart Association states that the likelihood of developing AF increases with age – more than two million Americans suffer from AF.
“Initially, atrial fibrillation patients are treated with medications to slow down their rapid heartbeats,” says Robert Reichman, M.D., a board-certified thoracic surgeon. “If that does not work, we may consider doing a surgical procedure called MAZE.”
The MAZE procedure is considered the gold-standard therapy for AF and works by disrupting the out-of-sync electrical patterns that cause AF.
“Using a radio-frequency probe, we electrically isolate the origin of the bad beat from the rest of the heart muscle and make several cuts in both atria to stop the formation and conduction of abnormal electrical currents,” says Dr. Reichman. These precisely placed incisions create a “maze” of scar tissue, which does not conduct electrical activity and allows for only one pathway for an electrical impulse to travel from the top to the bottom of the heart.
According to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, the MAZE procedure is highly effective in restoring normal rhythm.
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