For the first time ever, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital are using GPS technology to help treat atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of heart arrhythmia, also known as an irregular heartbeat. It’s estimated that 2.66 million people currently suffer from heart arrhythmia. With the help of GPS tracking technology, doctors can now treat the condition more effectively than ever before.
Atrial fibrillation affects everyone differently. Some only experience an irregular heartbeat once, others suffer a few episodes, while for others it is a more on-going chronic issue. During an irregular heartbeat, the atria (the upper chambers of the heart) receives rapid, irregular electrical signals, causing these chambers to beat too fast and off-rhythm. Because the atria are not beating properly, blood is not effectively pumped and can collect within the atria. This can cause symptoms of fatigue, decreased stamina and shortness of breath. Untreated, this condition can cause chest pain, congestive heart failure and increase risk of stroke.
Previous methods of treatment were fairly effective, but required multiple chest x-rays. Unfortunately, more x-rays mean more radiation exposure, which in turn increases risk of cancer. Using a system called Mediguide, which combines a GPS device with x-ray technology, doctors have been able to decrease radiation exposure during atrial fibrillation treatment by 90 percent. The Mediguide device allows doctors to thread a catheter through a vein in the leg into the heart.
“We did it today for the first time ever, it’s never been done before,” said Dr. Moussa Mansour, director of the Cardiac Electrophysiology Laboratory and the Atrial Fibrillation Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, in an interview with Boston’s CBS station WBZ. “The hope is with this new system we will be able to get the benefit of imaging with minimum risk of radiation exposure.”