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Patients with Irregular Heartbeat Have New Treatment Options at St. Mary

Revolutionary ablation catheter and cardiac monitor improve results and reduce procedure times.

LANGHORNE, Pa., July 8, 2014 – The state-of-the-art electrophysiology (EP) lab at St. Mary Medical Center recently became one of the first medical facilities in the Delaware Valley to offer leading-edge technology that improve results, safety, and comfort for heart care patients who are experiencing atrial fibrillation (Afib) or irregular heartbeat. These new technologies include the FDA-approved THERMOCOOL® SMARTTOUCH® Catheter and the Medtronic Reveal LINQ Insertable Cardiac Monitor (ICM) System.

Electrophysiology is a highly technical and useful service for patients with cardiac arrhythmias. It is an important field in cardiovascular medicine because of the great benefits it offers patients. With the advancement of technology within the electrophysiology field, more patients are getting treatments that can alleviate the potentially life-threatening conditions of irregular heartbeat that allow them to lead normal lives again.

Dr. Scott Burke, director of the St. Mary EP lab, used the new catheter technology to successfully treat two patients for Afib on March 28, 2014. The innovative device enables doctors to accurately assess and control the amount of contact force applied to heart tissue during a radiofrequency ablation procedure.

“This is a very significant breakthrough in ablation technology used in the EP lab,” says Dr. Burke. “The device provides another layer of data that allows these procedures to be done more quickly, safely, and accurately with very low amounts of X-ray exposure. The catheter clearly improves the effectiveness of the ablation procedure and long-term control rates of arrhythmias for these patients.”

Ablation destroys a small area of cardiac tissue considered to be causing a patient’s irregular heartbeat. Dr. Burke explains that a sensor in the new catheter tip provides information that guides the physician to apply targeted and consistent stable pressure during a catheter ablation. Effective tissue contact has been shown to improve patient outcomes. He adds that the new catheter will be used in most ablation procedures performed at St. Mary, reducing the procedure time to about three hours compared with five to six hours previously required.

Even as the new catheter technology enhances the safety and accuracy of the ablation procedure, electrophysiologists at St. Mary are at the forefront in performing low-fluoroscopy ablation procedures to improve patient safety. “We specialize in using a fluoroscopy-free approach that uses 3D echocardiography (ultrasound) to reduce radiation (X-ray) to patients,” says Dr. Burke. “We have been so successful at this that we now teach other physicians.”

Diagnostic technology for electrophysiology also is advancing. Physicians use cardiac monitoring devices to detect cardiac arrhythmias that occur when there is a malfunction in the heart’s electrical impulses that cause the heart to beat too quickly, too slowly or irregularly. And for some patients whose symptoms are infrequent and difficult to detect, long-term monitoring with an Insertable Cardiac Monitor (ICM) is recommended.

On March 31, 2014, Dr. Rafael Pena became the first St. Mary electrophysiologist to implant the revolutionary miniature ICM system to monitor three patients for potential life-threatening cardiac events. Cardiac monitoring devices, like the new Medtronic Reveal LINQ ICM System, can effectively increase the chance of detecting Afib in certain patients, especially for those who had a stroke for which diagnostic tests could not determine a cause.

“This new system is very small and very comfortable for patients,” says Dr. Pena. “It also is a safer procedure to implant in patients because less sedation is required and the device is wireless and goes in just under the skin. This novel advanced wireless system is the smallest implantable cardiac monitoring device available and is placed using a minimally invasive procedure, which simplifies the experience for both the physician and patient. The new ICM is approximately one-third the size of an AAA battery, making it more than 80 percent smaller than other ICMs. The device also uses global cellular technology that allows physicians to continuously and wirelessly monitor a patient’s heart for up to three years, with 20 percent more data memory than the previous generation of insertable loop recorders.

An ICM also may be useful for patients who experience dizziness, palpitation, fainting, and chest pain that may suggest a heart arrhythmia.

Afib is the most prevalent heart rhythm disorder and is a leading cause of stroke among people 65 years and older. An estimated three million people in the United States and 20 million worldwide are affected by Afib and its prevalence is projected to increase significantly as the population ages. Afib is a progressive condition and increases in severity and frequency as patients get older. Left untreated, it also can lead to congestive heart failure.

Electrophysiology analyzes and corrects the electrical activity in the heart that causes abnormal or irregular heartbeat, which can result in a stroke and other life-threatening conditions. Electrophysiology is the fastest growing field in cardiology as the need for treating arrhythmias continues to increase and the technology becomes increasingly sophisticated to control and even to cure complex conditions. The highly trained specialists at St. Mary EP lab perform nearly 1,300 electrophysiology procedures per year including the implantations of pacemakers and defibrillators to treat patients at risk for heart failure or sudden cardiac arrest.

St. Mary cardiovascular program received national recognition with the 2014 ACTION Registry – Get With The Guidelines (GWTG) Platinum Performance Achievement Award, the 2014 GOLD-Receiving Mission: Lifeline Quality Improvement Program, and is certified by the Joint Commission for Heart Failure.

To learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of irregular heartbeat and the latest EP procedures available at St. Mary, please visit