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  • Laser Balloon Calms Racing Heart
Aug 2011
LONDON, Aug. 24, 2011 — Doctors at The Heart Hospital in London have successfully treated a heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation with a new “laser balloon” technique. The procedure inflates a balloon inside the heart, which creates a blood-free zone allowing the balloon’s hidden camera to see inside the heart while directing a laser to specific targeted tissues that need to be treated.

Scott Rosser, a 34-year-old scuba diver who suffered from atrial fibrillation, was the first in the UK to be treated using this technique. His heart rate used to go as high as 202 beats per minute, which caused him to black out and increased his risk of a stroke. Upon having the laser balloon procedure, which required only general anesthetic, his heart rhythm was considered normal. The hospital kept him overnight merely as a precaution.

Atrial fibrillation affects millions of people each year and is the most common heart rhythm disorder in the world. It occurs when the normal pattern of electrical conduction in the top chambers of the heart (atria) becomes totally chaotic, resulting in a rapid, irregular heartbeat causing palpitations, breathlessness and tiredness. Those with the condition are said to be nine times more likely to have a stroke and twice as likely to predecease those with normal heart rhythms.

The laser balloon in action. (Image: University College London Hospitals)

In previous procedures, doctors have relied on 3-D computer maps generated by dragging a catheter around the inside of the heart. These maps offered impressions of the tissue areas around the pulmonary vein that were destroyed using radio-frequency energy in a procedure known as pulmonary vein isolation. Because the heart often repairs the damage, the success rate of the procedure drops to about 50 percent after one procedure, meaning the patient has to be readmitted.

While the new laser balloon technique also uses a catheter, the camera inside the balloon allows doctors to look inside the heart as never before, which, according to Dr. Oliver Segal, means better accuracy, better success and a safer procedure overall.

“This means patients will be much less likely to need two ablation procedures and therefore much less likely to develop a complication from ablation, which can include stroke, cardiac perforation, emergency surgery and, on very rare occasions, death,” said Segal.

Results from the first 400 cases worldwide have shown very encouraging results in comparison to other techniques. A substudy of more than 50 patients demonstrated a much higher rate of permanent pulmonary vein isolation of 86 percent after only a single procedure.

The Heart Hospital, part of University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust, performs around 380 atrial fibrillation ablation procedures every year, and the laser balloon could potentially be used to treat approximately half of these patients.

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