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Friday, August 28, 1998 Published at 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK


Doctors cure irregular heartbeat

Doctors' expertise could transform thousands of lifes

Doctors have perfected an technique to cure irregular heartbeat, a potentially life threatening condition affecting thousands of people.

Sufferers experience palpitations, shortage of breath and tiredness, and have much increased chance of a stroke or other heart disease.

Until now the only treatment has been to control the condition with drugs, electric shocks or pacemakers.

Painstaking work

But thanks to a year's painstaking work, doctors at Manchester Royal Infirmary have now developed a way to cure the problem.

Irregular heartbeat - medically termed atrial fibrillation - is caused by misfiring cells in the heart which short circuit and knock the usual heart rhythm out of balance.

The Manchester doctors insert a tube into a vein in the thigh, and feed it up to the heart, where the rogue cells can be specifically targeted for destruction by heating them up.

The procedure, carried out under local anaesthetic, corrects the faultly heartbeat instantly.

Pin down target

Consultant cardiologist Dr Clifford Garratt said: "It will certainly benefit a proportion of patients with this condition, especially younger ones, and we don't know the size of that proportion yet but it is a very important development.

"In the past we never thought that the cause of atrial fibrillation could be pinned down to a particular site, it was always thought to be a general problem.

"By using this particular technique we have been able to pinpoint the exact source of the problem much more precisely and have been able to work with the catheter in an area which has not been targeted previously."

The first person to undergo the pioneering surgery is 42-year-old fireman Gwyn Jones from Corwen, north Wales.

Normal life

[ image: The elderly are more prone to irregular heartbeat]
The elderly are more prone to irregular heartbeat
With a good chance of leading a normal life, he plans to return to work next week, just a month after surgery.

Mr Jones said: "The key thing for me is being able to get back to normal life and get back to work as a firefighter.

"The normal treatment for irregular heartbeat would mean I couldn't do it any more and I can't think of anything else I want to do - I love my job."

"I had a few nerves the night before but it was fine, there was no pain and I don't remember much about it."

About 1% of the population is affected by irregular heartbeat, rising to 5% in the over 60s.

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