Atrial Fibrillation and Pacemakers

Atrial fibrillation is a heart arrhythmia in which abnormal electrical signals begin in the atria (top chambers) of the heart, causing a fast, slow or irregular heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation may be treated with the insertion of a pacemaker, if medications and other procedures are not effective. Pacemakers are used in patients who have atrial fibrillation and need to restore the heart’s proper rhythm and work by regulating the electrical system of the heart.

A pacemaker is installed under the skin with leads, or wires, placed in the heart. The leads detect weak or slow signals and start a new, regular signal. This signal allows the heart to beat normally at a normal rate. The name “dual chamber” pacemaker refers to the placement of the pacemaker leads in both the right atrium (top right chamber) and right ventricle (lower right chamber). Other forms of pacemakers involve the stimulation of different chambers of the heart depending on the type of pacemaker.

Some patients may need to have an ablation procedure performed. In this procedure the tissue producing the abnormal signals is destroyed using a catheter inserted into the heart through a blood vessel. The surgeon carefully destroys malfunctioning tissue using the catheter to deliver energy (such as radiofrequency, laser or cyrotherapy) to scar the problematic areas. The scarred areas will no longer send abnormal signals. One example is AV node ablation. This procedure helps to prevent any abnormal signals in the atria from reaching the ventricles.