Irregular heartbeat can now be treated more safely and quicker than before

Just FDA-approved, pulsed-field ablation also causes less discomfort for the patient

Omaha, Neb., April 08, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Nebraska Medicine patient Doris McCann found out something wasn't right with her heart when she got an Apple Watch for Christmas. "I started getting notifications that my heartbeat was fast and I wasn't really doing any activity," says the 63-year-old McCann. "I was scared because I was like, 'What does this mean?’” 

She soon learned she had an irregular heartbeat—also known as atrial fibrillation—and she was referred to Nebraska Medicine interventional cardiologist Jason Payne, MBBS, to fix it. 

“AFib is a very chaotic, disorganized, rapid heart rhythm,” says Payne. “It can lead to strokes and really cause patients to have a very poor quality of life.”

Dr. Payne says AFib can be caused by several things, including diabetes, high blood pressure and the aging process. More than 12 million Americans will be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation by 2030. It’s the main cause of death for almost 200,000 people a year.

While AFib can’t be cured, it can be treated. In the past, it’s been treated using something called ablation.

“It usually involves the advancement of catheters into the heart and targeting tissue with some sort of thermal energy,” says Dr. Payne. “The problem is collateral damage (using this method). The heart is in the chest and there are other structures around the heart that can be collaterally damaged by thermal energy.”

Dr. Payne and his team were the first in Nebraska and in eight surrounding states to perform what’s called pulsed-field ablation. This procedure uses pulsed electrical fields instead of heat to destroy the cardiac tissue causing the AFib. The new procedure has many upsides, including a faster procedure time, less discomfort for the patient afterward, and perhaps most important, a much lower risk of damage to surrounding tissue. 

The pulsed electrical field is delivered by a device that reaches the heart via a catheter, as with the traditional procedure. On a monitor in front of him, Dr. Payne can manipulate the device and place it exactly where he wants before four electrical pulses are delivered. He then moves the device and again delivers four electrical pulses. This process is repeated until he's satisfied the areas causing the patient's AFib have been corrected.

McCann went home the same day and had rave reviews after the procedure.

“I felt normal—like did they do anything?” she said. “They assured me that they did.” 

Dr. Payne has now seen several patients for pulsed-field ablation since McCann and hopes to see even more.

“We need to do this procedure faster and safer than we have previously so it helps us meet the demand of our community,” says Dr. Payne.


Live image from pulsed-field ablation procedure Jason Payne, MBBS