Helping quivering hearts with freezing technique

The cardiology department at NNUH received a donation of £14,400 from NHT to purchase a Transoesophageal Echo probe to assist in AF ablations.
A frozen heart is improving the quality of life for some cardiology patients following the start of a new procedure at NNUH. Patients from Norfolk & Suffolk who have an irregular heart beat - atrial fibrillation (AF) - are benefitting from a treatment that freezes the veins leading into the heart. The cardiology team at NNUH have begun the procedure, called cryoablation, following funding for new equipment from NHT. Norfolk & Suffolk patients previously had to travel to Cambridge or London to have this treatment which aims to relieve symptoms of AF.

Dr Richard Till, Consultant Cardiologist and Electrophysiologist, said the development was part of NNUH's strategy to treat more complex heart conditions nearer to home. He said: "We are the third hospital in East Anglia to offer invasive treatments for atrial fibrillation. AF can cause palpitations, breathlessness and tiredness for patients and this procedure can have a big impact on quality of life and improves the symptoms of AF. Patients who have cryoablation can usually go home on the same day that they have the procedure and we have had very positive feedback so far." The NNUH has the capacity to carry out about 50 cryoablations a year. However, there is potential to increase the number of procedures with the planned development of the new Interventional Radiology Unit (IRU) at NNUH which will increase cath lab capacity.

What is atrial fibrillation?
AF is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm, and is caused by uncoordinated electrical impulses that cause an irregular 'quivering' of the top chambers of the heart. More than one million people in the UK have the condition. When the heart does not contract in a normal rhythm, there is a risk of a blood clot developing inside the chambers of the heart. AF can be treated in a number of ways including electrical cardioversion, which involves using a defibrillator to give a controlled electric shock to return the heart to a normal rhythm, and medications to maintain a normal rhythm after cardioversion or in patients with intermittent forms of AF.

How does cryoablation work?
Cryoablation is a new treatment method at NNUH introduced as part of an expansion in treatments for complex disturbances of heart rhythm. The procedure, which involves a Consultant Cardiologist, cardiac physiologists, radiographers, lab nurses and specialist nurses, involves inserting a balloon into the left atrium and freezing the four veins leading into the heart. The staff also carry out radio frequency ablation, under general anaesthetic, which uses heat to treat AF.