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Minimally invasive treatments possible for heart disease

By The Health News Team | February 6, 2024
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Taking care of your heart is vital to your overall health. From improving your diet, sleep schedule and exercise routine, to maintaining your weight, quitting smoking and reducing the amount of alcohol you drink, you can help prevent heart disease.

But when it comes to serious heart conditions, Dr. Karl Limmer, a cardiothoracic surgeon affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital, is passionate about expanding minimally invasive options to treat heart diseases, including irregular heartbeats and mitral valve disease.

Innovative procedures to treat irregular heartbeats

Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is a common and serious heart condition contributing to about 158,000 annual deaths in the United States. Although AFib mainly occurs in people over age 60, younger individuals can develop condition.

What’s more, people of all ages with AFib are five times more likely to have a stroke because the irregular heart rhythm can cause clots to form. A clot can then travel to the brain where it might block blood flow, causing a stroke.

Blood-thinning medications can be used to control these symptoms, but sometimes medicine alone isn’t enough. At Sharp Memorial, that’s when Dr. Limmer is consulted.

An expert in advanced minimally invasive surgery, Dr. Limmer is experienced in procedures to treat irregular heartbeats caused by AFib, including the hybrid maze procedure. This two-stage technique combines surgery with catheter ablation, a procedure performed by an electrophysiologist where small wires are threaded into the heart via a blood vessel. Both procedures are done through small incisions in the chest.

The hybrid maze procedure can restore the normal heart rate in patients, stop congestive heart failure, help reduce or stop the use of heart medications, and dramatically improve a patient's quality of life. Due to the highly specialized nature of this procedure, it is offered at only a handful of hospitals in California, including Sharp Memorial.

Minimally invasive robotic heart surgery

According to research published in The Lancet medical journal, mitral valve regurgitation impacts more than 11% of people age 75 and older. This disease makes it harder for the heart to pump blood effectively. Patients often have no symptoms of the disease, which can lead to heart failure and cardiac arrest if left untreated.

The mitral valve is located between the left heart chambers (left atrium and left ventricle). It consists of two flaps that allow blood flow from the left atrium to the left ventricle. Mitral valve regurgitation occurs when these flaps — which act as a “gate” between the heart’s upper and lower chambers — do not close properly.

With mitral valve regurgitation, the oxygen-rich blood that normally flows out to the body ends up flowing back into the heart. Without sufficient oxygen reaching other vital organs, a person may feel excessively tired and short of breath. In severe cases, it can eventually lead to heart failure, AFib or pulmonary hypertension.

Mitral valve repair and mitral valve replacement are procedures to treat diseases of the mitral valve. Dr. Limmer is one of the few cardiothoracic surgeons in San Diego performing minimally invasive, robotic-assisted mitral valve repair. He has seen firsthand the immense benefits of these procedures and strives to expand such minimally invasive options for patients.

“Heart surgery has contributed to improved patient outcomes and less pain, and it allows patients to return to activities quickly,” says Dr. Limmer. “With this technology, we can offer our patients all of the advantages of open-heart surgery without opening the chest.”

Learn more about Sharp cardiology specialists and treatments; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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