World-first heart treatment on trial in Hasselt


Cardiologists at the Jessa Hospital are part of a clinical study testing the safety and effectiveness of using electrical pulses to treat patients with irregular heartbeats

Reduced side effects

Cardiologists in Hasselt are testing a pioneering way to treat cardiac arrythmia using electric pulses. Alongside a partner team in Croatia, they are the first in the world to introduce the treatment, which eliminates the nerve damage frequently caused to patients under existing treatments.

One in four people in Belgium will eventually suffer from cardiac arrhythmia. The most common form is atrial fibrillation, where irregular activity of the atrial chambers prevents the heart from pumping the blood efficiently. This increases the risk of blood clots, which can cause a stroke or heart failure.

Existing treatment uses radio waves or extreme heat or cold to precisely burn away small pieces of heart tissue causing abnormal rhythms, a process known as ablation. The new approach uses powerful localised electric pulses instead to selectively destroy those cells.

“The new technique has far fewer side effects,” says Hasselt cardiologist Johan Vijgen. “With current techniques, we can help about 85% of first-time patients, but that still means 15% have to come back a second time. We also see that 1 or 2% have problems afterwards. That is due to damage to a respiratory nerve or the oesophagus or the heart itself. We are now trying to eliminate that with new techniques.”

Strong reputation

The new procedure has already been carried out 15 times this month at Hasselt’s Jessa hospital, with a further 10 patients set to be treated in the same way by the end of January. The patients are part of an international clinical study involving the Jessa hospital and a partner hospital in Split, Croatia.

Together the two teams will treat 50 patients with the new technique, who will be closely monitored for a year after the procedure is carried out. For example, there is a first telephone contact seven days after treatment and the doctor sees the patient again after a month. A thorough check-up follows after three months.

The fact that Jessa is one of the first two centres in the world to trial the procedure is a result of its strong reputation in clinical studies and innovative. In recent years, the centre has been a leader in several international studies to demonstrate the efficiency and safety of ablation in treating heart arrhythmia.

Photo: Jessa cardiologists Thomas Philips, Pieter Koopman and Johan Vijgen
© Jessa Ziekenhuis