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New hope for irregular heart rhythm cure

Many more people could soon be cured of the most common cause of irregular heart rhythm, as St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London treats the first patients in a world-wide study to prove the innovative procedure works. Read the full article in the Daily Mail.

Experts at the Barts Heart Centre – the biggest heart centre in the UK – are trialling a new treatment to see if it is possible to block the abnormal pulses that cause irregular heart rhythms. If proven successful, the new technique would not only improve the availability of treatment for those suffering with the heart condition, but would also significantly reduce the amount of time patients spend in surgery.

After experiencing some discomfort in his chest four years ago, doctors at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow diagnosed Douglas Newberry, 67 with atrial fibrillation – a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.

The condition, which affects 1% of the population, is one of the most common causes of stroke and can lead to heart failure. It is triggered by abnormal electrical pulses which override the heart's natural rhythm.

Patients with severe symptoms can undergo a procedure to carefully destroy bits of tissue in order to interrupt the abnormal electrical pulses. Until now, this has only been available to a relatively small number of patients due to the complexity of the procedure.

When Douglas, from Hertfordshire, noticed his symptoms worsening, he was referred to St Bartholomew’s where the new, simpler technique was trialled.

Professor Schilling, Consultant Cardiologist at Barts Health NHS Trust said: “This really is a game-changer for this common condition. The previous technique is painstaking – it usually takes around three hours. We were able to give Douglas the same results, a stable rhythm, in 90 minutes.”

The new technique uses a balloon fitted with numerous electrodes which deliver precise doses of energy to tissue around the heart in order to block abnormal electrical pulses. These doses can be delivered at once rather than meticulously destroying individual bits of tissue one after the other using a thin wire.

A chest physician himself, Douglas knows the importance of breakthrough treatments and research: “If you have a choice to have something done by one of the top guys in the world you don’t turn it down. But the whole team were exceptional. I was privileged to have outstanding care from the whole team - those who sweep the floor, receptionists, people who bring you tea as well as the nurses, doctors and anaesthetists. I would also like to pay tribute to the wonderful team at Princess Alexandra Hospital; they have been fantastic throughout and without their expertise I would not have had access to this treatment.”

Since the procedure he has had a stable rhythm and St Bartholomew’s experts are hopeful that this will add to the evidence to turn the clinical trial into reality and make the procedure common place across the world.

Professor Schilling said: “We hope that this will be a quicker, safer and more effective treatment for this very common problem. More centres around the world will now be able to continue the trial – we are very optimistic.”


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