MURRAY — Doctors at Intermountain Medical Center have developed a way to make 3-D images of the actual electrical waves or patterns that drive the human heart.
The technique is now part of a study to target and treat the toughest cases of atrial fibrillation, like that of heart patient Barbara Eyler.
In the past, Eyler has not responded well to treatments. What doctors call cauterizations or ablations have provided only temporary relief. So did all sorts of medications.
The fibrillations that trigger shortness of breath, dizziness and other symptoms always returned, and for Eyler there was a fear of a heart attack as episodes became more frequent. But now, she said the fear is gone.
"The medications are gone. I'm living as normal a life as I have lived in probably 25 years," Eyler said.
Before, on a monitor, the electrical wave patterns in her heart were chaotic. Instead of 60 to 80 beats per minute, the hearts in atrial fibrillation patients race erratically sometimes 300 to 600 beats per minute.
While 3-D imaging of the heart has been around for a long time, two doctors at IMC developed a technique to 3-D map the electrical waves that keep the heart moving smoothly.
"What's different about this is it's allowing us to actually see the source," said Dr. John Day, a heart rhythm specialist. "That is what is new — to be able to see those chaotic electrical wave fronts."
In Eyler's case, it allowed Day and his colleagues to see the needle in the haystack — where the erratic electrical patterns were coming from — and then they knew how to target them for cauterization.
Day told Eyler they were able to identify areas in her heart they had never seen before, areas they had never identified before as villains for misfiring.
"No longer is it a shotgun approach, treating certain general areas and hoping that it works," Day said.
Though the study is still in its early stages the data looks good.
"In 80 percent of these cases, one procedure can allow these patients to be medication free and maintain a normal heart rhythm," Day said.
For those patients, the electrical chaos goes away as heart rhythms smooth out, beating more like a well-tuned orchestra.
"I'm living as normal and perfect a life as I could hope to ever have," Eyler said.