December 12, 2014 - 3:12 am
(BPT) – From greeting long-lost family and friends at baggage claim to rushing across the terminal to catch a departing flight, a fast, skipping heartbeat is a common occurrence at airports across the country. But for commercial airline pilot Tim Knutson, 46, his irregular heartbeat indicated far more serious problems.
Based in Dallas, Texas, for work, but living with his family in Chetek, Wisconsin, Knutson was meeting with his chiropractor when the doctor noticed his irregular heartbeat. A cardiologist soon diagnosed him with atrial fibrillation (Afib), the most common heart rhythm condition in the United States, affecting nearly three million Americans.
For people who have Afib, an irregularity in the heart’s electrical system prevents the heart from beating normally and instead, the upper chambers of the heart (atria) quiver. Some patients liken this “fluttering” feeling to a hummingbird flapping its wings in their chest. This abnormal beating of the heart prevents the blood from effectively moving into the bottom chambers of the heart (ventricles), increasing the risk of stroke. In fact, people with Afib have a five times higher risk of stroke than those without the condition. Afib is a progressive disease, meaning that if it is left untreated, it may lead to chronic fatigue, congestive heart failure or stroke.
“My cardiologist prescribed medicine, but it didn’t fully control my symptoms, and also made me incredibly tired,” says Knutson. “As a pilot, we have to pass strict medical exams to continue flying. I knew that if I didn’t have my Afib under control, I was putting my career – and perhaps even the safety of passengers – at risk.”
Tim’s experience is not uncommon as over half of patients with Afib either don’t respond to or cannot tolerate drug therapy because of its side effects. To address Knutson’s Afib, his electrophysiologist recommended a minimally invasive procedure called contact force therapy.
“Afib can have significant medical and quality of life implications for patients,” says Dr. Craig Delaughter, of Fort Worth, Texas. “Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new device called the THERMOCOOL SMARTTOUCH Catheter, the first contact force therapy approved in the U.S. In my opinion this catheter represents a significant advancement in cardiac arrhythmia management. It reports the exact amount of force I am applying to heart tissue. This new contact force information makes me confident that every location I need to ablate is effectively treated. This is an important treatment option because it has proven results in improving clinical outcomes and helping patients like Tim get back to their lives.”
During the procedure, doctors place a thin bendable wire, or catheter, through a blood vessel in the leg to reach the heart, and, using a navigation-like mapping system, can identify and treat parts of the heart that cause the heart rhythm problems. Patients are typically out of the hospital in one or two days and can resume normal activities. To learn more about Afib and available treatment options, visit GetSMARTAboutAfib.com.
“Since the therapy earlier this summer, my Afib symptoms are gone and I’m back in the cockpit, right where I belong,” Knutson says. “I encourage people with Afib to talk to their doctor about the path that might be right for them.”
The THERMOCOOL SMARTTOUCH Catheter is FDA approved for the treatment of drug refractory recurrent symptomatic paroxysmal Afib, when used with compatible 3D electroanatomic mapping systems.
Catheter ablation may not be an option if you had recent heart surgery; prosthetic valves; active infection; certain cancers; intracardiac thrombus, or an interatrial baffle or patch. Known complications include bleeding, swelling or bruising at the catheter insertion site, and infection. More serious complications are rare, which can include damage to the heart or blood vessels; blood clots (which may lead to stroke); heart attack, or death. Speak with your doctor about whether this is the right option for you.