More than five million people worldwide have been diagnosed with the heart disorder atrial fibrillation (AF). In AF, the upper chambers of the heart, the atria, quiver and beat rapidly: a condition that can often lead to heart failure and stroke, making AF a major cause of hospital admission. Similarly, another disorder of the heart's rhythm, ventricular fibrillation (VF) can be just as bad for your health. Biomedical engineer Kityee Au-Yeung of Duke University, in North Carolina, says there is an urgent need to find a safe and effective treatment for AF.
Au-Yeung and her colleagues Chad Johnson and Patrick Wolf, have now developed an implantable electronic device that could help doctors listen in to the whispering heart, and prevent serious attacks of AF before it happens.
AF can often be stopped by a short, sharp electrical shock to the heart, a method known as electrical cardioversion, or defibrillation, a method familiar to anyone who watches TV hospital dramas. The method is designed to resynchronize the heart beat and restore its normal rhythm. Cardioversion is very successful in stopping an AF or VF episode and there are calls for the installation of defibrillators in many public places. But, the electrical shocks delivered to the patient can be very painful.
"AF is not an immediately life-threatening condition, and does not require immediate attention like VF does," explains Au-Yeung, "Defibrillating an AF episode, if not done properly, could itself lead to a fatal ventricular arrhythmia."
Au-Yeung and her colleagues are investigating a new version of electrical defibrillation that uses lower energy shocks, which they say would be far less painful for the patient as well as
Contact: David Reid
Institute of Physics