MAZE is a procedure that is used to treat a common arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is a disruption in the electrical signals in the heart, causing a fast or erratic heartbeat; it can increase the risk of stroke or add to the risks associated with heart valve disease or coronary artery disease. The erratic electrical impulse starts in the upper chambers (atria) of the heart and then travels to the lower chambers, causing each to contract in sequence. In a MAZE procedure, a surgeon creates a series of lines on the outer surface of the upper heart that blocks the passage of the rogue signal. The lines are made either as small cuts or via devices that emit highly focused heat or cold. The exact placement of the lines varies, but they are intended to create a “breakwater” of scar tissue that smoothes out the electrical waves during fibrillation. This often relieves the symptoms.
MAZE can be performed as traditional “open heart” surgery, alone or in combination with another procedure, or via one of several minimally invasive methods. Sometimes, the surgeon will also target other hotspots for fibrillation, such as the area where the pulmonary vein enters the heart, or the surgeon may remove portions of tissue that increase the risk of blood clots for those with atrial fibrillation.