Suddenly the heart has gone mad

Hansjörg Brücker is 37 years old and an enthusiastic runner. One day he suddenly notices a problem with his heart. The diagnosis is atrial fibrillation. He struggles for many years to get back his quality of life. Ultimately, he puts his cardiac arrhythmia behind him thanks to catheter ablation.

It struck in the middle of a training session: Hansjörg Brücker goes running as many as seven times a week, covering distances from 5 to 21 kilometres per run. Sometimes he even laces up his running shoes more than once in a single day. He’s a healthy, energetic man at the peak of his life and who regularly competes in half-marathons – not exactly the poster child for heart disease.

Despite this, in late 2000 he suddenly felt short of breath, as if his heart had begun to sputter.

The ECG revealed the problem: atrial fibrillation

“I had no idea what it could be,” Brücker recalls. “At first I thought that this rapid heartbeat might have something to do with my circulation.” The odd trouble quickly went away again, but still occurred sporadically in the weeks that followed.

Brücker visited his family doctor, who performed an electrocardiograph, leading to the atrial fibrillation diagnosis. Further examinations, including with specialised cardiologists, confirmed the conclusion.

The burden of uncertainty

Brücker was initially given medication: Antiarrhythmic drugs helped to minimise the individual occurrences. Yet his atrial fibrillation remained unpredictable: the episodes began to increase in frequency – and not only when training, but also during periods of minimal exertion or even while sleeping. This was an unsettling turn for Brücker: “I never new when the next wave might occur. It made me anxious.”

While it never limited the security officer’s ability to go about his work, and he could continue with his sport each day just as before, he still had a growing uneasy feeling that a new episode of atrial fibrillation could occur at any time. “There was always this sense of uncertainty that it could happen though,” says Brücker, who is now 54.

Catheter ablation as the solution to atrial fibrillation

As a permanent solution to the problem, in 2004 a catheter ablation was discussed as a treatment option. “There had been a great many medical advances during these years,” explains Brücker. Sclerotherapy in the tissue regions responsible for the signals had become a more and more realistic solution to permanently treating the atrial fibrillation. He contacted Hirslanden Klinik Aarau and met Dr. med. Sven Reek from the Hirslanden Medical Center. The doctor would supervise the course of Brücker’s treatment in the subsequent years.

Second procedure needed

In 2007, the operation was finally performed: Brücker looked forward to the operation with a sense of calm; he felt well informed and placed his trust in the doctors and the technique. The ablation procedure itself was performed without anaesthesia. “I was given a sedative,” said Brücker, “because you are of course a bit tense.

But the procedure did not yield the desired outcome: the tissue that responsible for the undesired impulses could not be adequately isolated or had regenerated after the sclerotherapy. A second catheter ablation was necessary.

A successful finale

After the second procedure, he noticed the atrial fibrillation again. “It certainly was a bit disillusioning to find out that it had failed once again,” admits Brücker. “I thought a lot about the problem during this period and often spent hours sitting at the computer researching and reading everything I could find. As a layman, I didn’t understand everything, and I also found a lot of information unsettling. But most of the information also gave me hope. I decided to exhaust all possibilities to finally get the problem under control.”

Brücker underwent a third procedure, which finally yielded the desired outcome. “Since my operation in 2013 I haven’t had any problems,” Brücker proudly reports. “I was fortunate that there were medical advances as my condition progressed and that I was able to put the atrial fibrillation behind me.” 

Es erwischte ihn mitten im Training: Bis zu sieben Mal pro Woche geht Hansjörg Brücker laufen. Zwischen fünf und einundzwanzig Kilometer legt er pro Einheit zurück, manchmal schnürt er sogar mehrmals am Tag die Laufschuhe. Er ist ein gesunder, vitaler Mann in der Mitte seines Lebens, der regelmässig Halbmarathons bestreitet – alles andere als ein Risikopatient für Herzkrankheiten. Doch Ende 2000 war da plötzlich diese Kurzatmigkeit: als wäre sein Herz ins Stolpern geraten …

Brücker is satisfied: “Now I’m entirely carefree again; I have my old life back.”