Treating Atrial Fibrillation With the Maze Procedure
Over 2 million people in the U.S. suffer from atrial fibrillation (also referred to as AF or AFib). The likelihood of developing the condition increases as you grow older. It is estimated that nearly 5% of those who are over the age of 65 suffer from it. While it has traditionally been treated with medications such as anti-arrhythmics and shock therapy, the Maze procedure is far more effective. In this article, we’ll provide a brief overview of atrial fibrillation and describe how Maze surgery resolves the condition.
Erratic Rhythm Within The Heart’s Chambers
Your heart consists of four chambers: two atria (upper) and two ventricles (lower). They relax and contract rhythmically in order for your heart to pump blood throughout your body. The rhythm is determined by electrical signals that are generated by your sinus node, a group of cells that are located within the upper right chamber. In effect, the sinus node functions like an organic pacemaker.
The electrical signals that are produced in the sinus node are supposed to follow a defined path through your atria and ventricles. Normally, they first travel through the upper chambers, causing them to contract and push blood into the lower chambers. The electrical impulses then travel through the atrioventricular node and onward through the ventricles, causing them to contract.
Atrial fibrillation is characterized by an erratic heartbeat. The impulses from the sinus node flow through the atria chaotically, causing them to contract unpredictably. This can lead to heart palpitations, poor circulation, and breathing difficulties.
Resolving The Problem With The Maze Procedure
The Maze procedure can be used to design a path along which the sinus node’s electrical signals travel. This is accomplished by creating scar tissue. Because scar tissue cannot conduct electricity, it is capable of disrupting the erratic impulses and preventing them from occurring.
During the operation, a surgeon will make several small incisions into the left and right atria. The incisions must be precisely positioned to create a clear pathway for the impulses to follow. Once the incisions have been made, they are immediately sewn back together to create scarring.
Open Versus Minimally Invasive Techniques
The Maze procedure can be performed either through open surgery (sternotomy) or by taking a minimally invasive approach. Open heart surgery requires that the sternum is split and the heart is stopped. There is a significant risk of infection and substantial postoperative pain.
A minimally invasive approach eliminates the need for the surgeon to split the sternum or stop the heart. Instead, several small incisions are made between the ribs; a camera and surgical instruments are inserted through the incisions to access the site and perform the surgery. There is less likelihood of infection and less pain following the procedure.
Though atrial fibrillation many times can lead to reduced heart function and even stroke, it is not always dangerous. If you suffer from AFib, it is wise to speak with your doctor regarding whether the Maze procedure is an appropriate form of treatment for your circumstances.