New defibrillation method may lead to less pain

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A new method of defibrillation for patients with atrial fibrillation may lead to less pain, according a report published in Nature.

Low-energy antifibrillation pacing (LEAP) uses a catheter to create a sequence of five weak electrical signals in the heart. Stefan Luther, co-leader of a team of scientists at Cornell University, New York, that helped to develop LEAP, said “Only a few seconds later [after the sequence of signals], the heart beats regularly again. The energy applied to the heart per pulse is on average 84% less than in conventional methods.”

Using a step-by-step process, the new method terminates the turbulent electrical activity within the heart. The weak electrical signals create “virtual electrodes” that stimulate heterogeneities within the heart and, particularly, the blood vessels. Each pulse activates more heterogeneities, which suppress the chaotic activity of the heart and revert it back to sinus rhythm.

Traditionally, defibrillation excites all cells of the heart at the same time and as a result, the cells cannot transmit any electrical signals for a short time. Therefore, it terminates the arrhythmia. The process is effective but is painful and can damage surrounding tissue.

The team at Cornell University consider LEAP to be “groundbreaking” and are currently looking at how it can be brought into clinical practice as quickly as possible.