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Home » Cardiology » New atrial fibrillation treatment with emerging benefits for patients and healthcare

Dr Zhong Chen

Consultant cardiologist and electrophysiologist, based at Harefield Hospital,
part of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Specialist Care

A game-changing treatment for atrial fibrillation at a London hospital is delivering more efficient care which could significantly help to cut NHS waiting times.

The Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals (RBHH), part of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, is testing a new energy technique for the treatment of atrial fibrillation (AF) and is already receiving positive feedback from patients. The new innovation, called Pulse Field Ablation (PFA), takes significantly less time than existing AF catheter ablation techniques, meaning more patients can be treated in a day. 

Disturbances of atrial fibrillation  

Heart rhythm disturbances, such as AF — when the electrical activation falls out of sync with the normal heartbeat — are common. They can leave people feeling unwell, though others may not realise they have AF, which is diagnosed via an electrocardiogram (ECG) recording or a heart monitor. 

While AF can be treated with medication, it is controlled most effectively with ablation. However, Harefield Hospital consultant cardiologist and electrophysiologist Dr Zhong Chen notes that if left untreated, the condition can worsen and pose an increased risk of stroke. 

Advantages of pulse field ablation  

Traditional catheter ablation, which takes one to two hours under general anaesthetic, sees a soft wire guided through a vein into the heart to deliver a high-frequency radio wave and uses heat to destroy the area of the heart responsible for the irregular electrical activity. 

Now, RBHH is offering PFA, which uses a different energy delivery approach and has advantages over conventional catheter ablation. Dr Chen explains: “It is designed to specifically target cardiac tissue and reduce damage to nerves, blood vessels and the oesophagus.” 

It is designed to specifically target
cardiac tissue and reduce damage to
nerves, blood vessels and the oesophagus.

Reduced risk and quick treatment 

The new technique takes 15–30 minutes and is better for patient recovery, with many going home on the same day. “Another bonus is that patients notice little chest discomfort after PFA,” says Dr Chen, who specialises in heart rhythm disturbances in adult cardiac patients. As an early adopter of PFA, currently offered to early-stage AF patients, RBHH has treated 100 patients since the end of last year with no major complications.  

Improving processes in healthcare 

Dr Chen says PFA is a ‘game-changer,’ and with shorter treatment times, better use of catheter lab time and reduced hospital stays, it can be offered to more patients. “It will change the way we treat AF,” he adds.  

“Previously, we could do two ablation cases a day but with PFA we can fit in five. That improves catheter lab efficiencies. Patients can go home earlier, which is good for the NHS and private care, with implications in reducing waiting lists.”  

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