Canadian doctors are testing a simple "plug" to help treat atrial fibrillation, a condition that affects about 250,000 patients in this country and often can't be cured with medication.

Atrial fibrillation can be a frightening condition as the heart doesn't beat normally, causing fainting and chest pain.

The irregular heartbeat causes blood to pool and thicken in a chamber around the heart, seriously boosting the chance of clots and a stroke. Atrial fibrillation is responsible for about 15 per cent of all eschemic strokes.

About five per cent of Canadians who are older than 70 suffer from atrial fibrillation -- an estimated 250,000 people. If patients undergo the new procedure, they can avoid open-heart surgery.

Most patients with atrial fibrillation take drugs that thin their blood, to stop clots from forming. But they cause dangerous bleeding for patients like Ellaine Painter. She's 82-years old and has lived with the risk of stroke for years.

"It's a big risk of stroke," Painter said.

Painter was recently treated with a new device that is being tested in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. The procedure is called "catheter implantation of the new Amplatzer Cardiac Plug prosthesis," and is still in the clinical trial stage, though showing promising results.

Doctors thread a tiny cable into the heart and into the area where the blood is pooling. They then open the plug. This procedure stop clots from forming.

Dr. Eric Horlick, at Toronto's Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, is one of the cardiologists testing the device.

"I think that this new technology is very exciting," Horlick told CTV News. "We know that stroke is devastating, and we know that atrial fibrillation is responsible for 15 per cent of all the strokes we see in Canada.

"This is a huge public health problem and it's something that we potentially have a solution for."

His colleague, Dr. Mark Osten, says more data is needed, through randomized clinical trials, before the device can be adopted as the "the standard of care."

The procedure has been used in Europe regularly since 2008.

It was also announced last year that the Montreal Heart Institute (MH) would be used as a training headquarters for U.S. doctors.

In late 2009, a team from the MHI did its first implantation of the prosthesis, and the successful procedure was credited to the shared efforts of the MHI, the Institut de cardiologie et de pneumologie de Quebec, the Toronto General Hospital and St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver. The team performed three operations.

For Painter, meanwhile, the choice to undergo the procedure was an easy one.

"It worked out very well for me," she said. "Very well."

With a report by CTV News medical specialist Avis Favaro and prucer Elizabeth St. Philip