Many people experience it—their hearts going pitter-patter, aflutter, or any number of names—and chalk it up to indigestion, anxiety, passion, and more.
But doctors warn it could be something more serious: atrial fibrillation, a condition in which the heart's small upper chambers (atria) don't beat the way they should. Instead of beating in a normal pattern, they beat irregularly or too fast, creating a quivering sensation.
According to the American Heart Association, other symptoms of atrial fibrillation include an irregular and rapid heartbeat, rapid thumping in the chest, dizziness, sweating, fatigue, and more. Consulting with a doctor when these symptoms are present is always recommended over self-diagnosis. The risks of undiagnosed and untreated atrial fibrillation can include chronic fatigue and even stroke or heart failure.
While it's rarely the first choice of treatment, atrial fibrillation ablation is one method doctors use to treat the malady. Generally, this involves scarring or destroying heart tissue in a precision manner to disrupt the faulty electrical signals causing the problem. One common form of this treatment includes catheter ablation, in which long, thin tubes are inserted into the heart to apply heat or extreme cold.
Recently, Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Maine, began offering a new form of atrial fibrillation treatment called "hybrid ablation." Hybrid ablation combines a surgical procedure and catheter ablation both in the same setting. It's performed by a team of both a surgeon and an electrophysiologist in a "hybrid" approach.
"This is a relatively new procedure, and it does require a multidisciplinary team," said Dr. John Klemperer, a thoracic and cardiac surgeon in Bangor, Maine, affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area including EMMC. "As a matter of fact, in New England, there are very few centers outside of Eastern Maine doing it."
Klemperer said that for patients that have had problems with persistent atrial fibrillation and who anticipate that simple catheter ablation or medical therapy is not going to be successful, this "offers a real chance of being free from atrial fibrillation for the long term."
He said the combined approach maximizes the effectiveness of the ablation, and overall, the procedure is minimally invasive.
"[The cardiac surgeon's] role is to get access directly to the surface of the heart," said Klemperer. "This is through a small, minimally invasive incision. We can directly visualize and create ablation lines on the back of the left atrium. When we combine our approach [with the electrophysiologists], we're able to get a very effective ablation."
Overall, experts say the future looks promising for this new form of atrial fibrillation treatment.
"I think our team and the electrophysiologists are very excited about this," said Klemperer. "We are keeping close track on our data and what's happening around the country, and it seems like this will be proven to be a very successful therapy."
For more information on hybrid ablation treatment for atrial fibrillation at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Maine, visit