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Health Beat: Freezing the heart to heal the heart

Health Beat: Freezing the heart to heal the heart

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. - When it comes to spending time in her garden, Carmen Winkler doesn't skip a beat.

"I like my flowers," Winkler said.

But her love was threatened when her own heart began to flutter.

"It was so hard, my blouse was moving," said Winkler, whose doctor diagnosed her with atrial fibrillation.

"Atrial fibrillation is a fast, irregular heart rhythm from the top chamber of the heart, and it affects about 15 percent of the population," said Dr. Jonathan Rosman, cardiologist, Delray Medical Center.

When medication fails, Rosman said radio-frequency ablation is used, where heat destroys the tissue causing the irregularity.

"However, what can happen is you can actually burn a hole through the heart and it can go into the esophagus and that can be fatal," Rosman said.

Now, a new option virtually eliminates that risk by freezing the tissue instead of heating it up.

"By freezing, we're no longer destroying the tissue. What we are doing is making it electrically inactive," Rosman said.

A small catheter injects a liquid coolant into the affected area, freezing the tissue and restoring the heart's rhythm.

Now, Winkler is back to admiring her butterflies just one month after her procedure.

"Once we had 80 butterflies," Winkler said.

Cryoablation has been found to be less likely damage heart tissue than radio-frequency ablation

Atrial fibrillation affects about three million Americans and can lead to heart failure or stroke.

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