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Massachusetts doctors use medical GPS to treat deadly heart condition

Similar to drivers, doctors are using medical GPS to help direct them through the difficult passageways of the body.

Medical professionals at Massachusetts General Hospital are using the technology to help them treat atrial fibrillation, the most common form of heart arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat, CBS Boston reports.

"We did it today for the first time ever, it's never been done before," Dr. Moussa Mansour, the director of the Cardiac Electrophysiology Laboratory and the Atrial Fibrillation Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, said to CBS station WBZ in Boston.

During atrial fibrillation, the heart sends rapid, unruly electrical signals to the atria -- the heart's upper chambers -- causing them to beat fast and irregularly. Blood collects in the atria and is not pumped to the ventricles, which are the lower chambers of the heart. This can cause a patient to feel fatigue, shortness of breath and decreased stamina.

Atrial fibrillation can be a one-time or episodic event or it can be an ongoing, long-term problem over the course of a few years and damage the body each time it occurs. Undiagnosed, atrial fibrillation can increase the risk for stroke and cause chest pain or congestive heart failure.

An estimated 2.66 million people have the condition, and risk for atrial fibrillation increases with age.

In order to treat the condition, patients have to undergo many chest x-rays during the procedure which increases their radiation exposure. Too much radiation exposure may lead to cancer.

Instead, doctors are using a device called Mediguide that combines x-rays with GPS technology. This allows them to thread a catheter up through the leg and into the heart to help them repair the problem. The new procedure cuts radiation exposure by 90 percent.

"The hope is with this new system we will be able to get the benefit of imaging with minimum risk of radiation exposure," Mansour said.

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