Balloon cryoablation is a new treatment developed specifically to treat atrial fibrillation or A-Fib. As the name implies, cryoablation involves the use of a refrigerant (cryo) to ablate (or remove) electrical pathways in the heart that are conducting unwanted electrical signals.
Atrial fibrillation often occurs when the pulmonary veins, which bring blood from the lungs back to the heart, are conducting electrical signals that disrupt the heart’s normal rhythm. As the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat erratically, the rest of the heart starts to beat faster. The result can be shortness of breath, fatigue and weakness. A-Fib can worsen over time and lead to a greater risk of stroke.
The Arctic Front® Cryoballoon Catheter was developed specifically to target the tissue where the pulmonary veins and the atria connect and prevent it from spreading these unwanted electrical currents. It’s the first FDA-approved balloon ablation technology commercially available for the treatment of atrial fibrillation.
During the cryoablation procedure, while the patient is under anesthesia, the doctor makes a small cut in the groin area through which the balloon catheter (or small tube) is inserted in the vein and threaded to the left atrium of the heart.
Once the cryoballoon catheter is inside the left atrium, the physician inflates the balloon and moves it to the opening of the pulmonary vein. The goal is to close off the opening of the pulmonary vein completely, which stops the flow of blood between the atrium and the vein (this is called occlusion).
Once occlusion is confirmed, the physician introduces a liquid refrigerant into the balloon. The refrigerant freezes the heart tissue just at the opening of the pulmonary vein where the balloon touches it. As a result, the tissue is ablated and should no longer spread the electrical currents that caused the atrial fibrillation.
Patients usually stay overnight in the hospital for observation and go home the next morning. Many patients are able to resume normal activity within a week.
For a patient’s account of this new technology, click here to read Wayne’s story.