SAN ANTONIO — The number of Americans with atrial fibrillation, or an irregular heartbeat, is skyrocketing. Technology is trying to keep up with the pace of the disease to ensure better outcomes from procedures.

When someone suffers from atrial fibrillation, or AFIB, there are many ways to go about treating it, depending on how severe it is and how long they've had it. 

Dr. Minoj Panday, the head of the section of electrocardio physiology at UT Health San Antonio, who also sees patients within the University Health System, said the first is with medication. "Like many other diseases, you can start off with medications first and that's often how we start,: he said.

Like many other patients with long-term AFIB, the medication didn't work for his patient, Delia Gonzales. "We were trying different medicines because I had high blood pressure and I had diabetes," she said.

The second way it is treated is through rhythm and rate control. Dr. Panday said, "Rate control means you prevent the rate from going too fast but the atrial fibrillation is still persists. Rhythm control is different because we are trying to get patients out of atrial fibrillation."

Next comes what is called a cardioversion. "A simple shock to the heart under sedation to get them out of atrial fibrillation," said Dr. Panday. 

Gonzales added, "They did the paddles to see if I could get my AFIB in rhythm, but it only lasted a couple of days then it came right back."

A very common procedure is called a cardiac ablation. Dr. Panday explained, "We place catheters up the vein and into the heart and isolate what we call the pulmonary veins where the triggers from atrial fibrillation come from."

What worked for Gonzales, who had multiple strokes, was ablation combined with what is called a lariat procedure. "What that does essentially is close off the left atrial appendage so clots can no longer form in that place where 80% to 90% of strokes originate from," Dr. Panday said.

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