CAN FREEZING THE HEART PREVENT A STROKE? - Danbury Hospital Pioneers Use of Cryoablation to Treat Afib and Reduce Stroke Risk-

Norwalk Hospital
Afib Atrial Fibrillation
DANBURY, Connecticut – April 26, 2016 – Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and a major cause of adult disability. A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked by a clot or by fatty deposits called plaque in the blood vessel lining. One of the top causes of stroke is an irregular heartbeat known as Atrial fibrillation, often called AFib or AF. During National Stroke Month in May, Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN) is pioneering the use of a new technique, which freezes heart tissue to stop AFib.

“Danbury Hospital is one of the first hospitals in Connecticut to treat AFib with cryoablation, or extreme cold,” said cardiac specialist Dr. Robert Winslow. “By disabling damaged tissue with cold energy instead of heat which was previously used, we can perform an effective procedure more quickly and patients generally experience less pain.”

Specifically, cryoablation can help restore a patient’s normal heart rhythm. During this minimally-invasive procedure, a thin flexible tube called a balloon catheter is used to freeze the heart tissue that can trigger an irregular heartbeat. Recent studies have found cryoablation to be significantly more effective than medication.
Cardiologist Dr. John Novella at Norwalk Hospital, part of the WCHN network, recently treated a 46-year-old woman from Stamford with cryoablation at Danbury Hospital.

“She was having multiple daily episodes of drug-refractory atrial fibrillation. On the day of the procedure, she arrived in atrial fibrillation. During her procedure, her abnormal heart rhythm was restored to normal rhythm shortly after we began applying Cryoballoon energy to her largest pulmonary vein. Since her procedure, she has not had one episode.”

The doctors in the WCHN network have been using this new technology for less than six months, but are impressed by the results. The procedure lasts about two hours and recovery only requires 48 hours of intense physical activity restriction. While there are potential adverse events from the procedure, they are extremely rare. One advantage of cryoablation is the ability to cool tissue before freezing it to make sure the specific area targeted is the one causing the abnormal heart rhythm. . If it is not, the site’s normal electrical function can be restored simply by allowing the tissue to re-warm.

According to the CDC about 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke each year. On average, one American dies from a stroke every 4 minutes. AFib increases a person’s risk for stroke by four to five times and strokes caused by AFIB tend to be more severe than strokes with other underlying causes.

“Learning and adopting new techniques is one of the priorities of WCHN,” concludes Dr. Winslow. “Our goal is keep people well. We prefer to keep people healthy and help them lead a more comfortable life by treating an underlying health issue.”