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Cardiovascular Health Channel
Reported March 2, 2006

Lasting Relief for Irregular Heartbeat Patients

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- It's a much welcomed treatment for patients with irregular heartbeats -- long-lasting relief with a procedure that takes less than two hours.

Researchers from the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center in Ann Arbor and the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, Italy find positive results from radiofrequency catheter ablation for chronic atrial fibrillation, the most common heart-rhythm disorder. The treatment has looked promising for years, but this study is considered definitive.

"We have shown objectively, and with rigorous follow-up, that this procedure is a very good option for patients with symptomatic, chronic atrial fibrillation who otherwise may have to live with atrial fibrillation for the rest of their lives," says Hakan Oral, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School.

Results from the study reveal 74 percent of patients who had the procedure did not have an irregular heartbeat a year later, and did not need medication to regulate their heart rhythm. Participants also reported a big drop in the severity of symptoms and their hearts' left upper chambers returned to normal size. Some of them needed a second procedure to completely treat the condition. No side effects were reported.

Catheter ablation sends tiny bursts of intense radiofrequency waves to the disorganized and rapid electrical activity, which short-circuits the irregular rhythm. The catheter is inserted through the groin and snaked through the major blood vessels to the heart.

Traditional treatments for atrial fibrillation include electric shock procedures and medication to thin the blood and regulate the heart's rhythm. The drugs can cause side effects and often lose their effectiveness. These treatments are often only effective temporarily. Most patients have recurrences of atrial fibrillation.

This article was reported by Ivanhoe.com, who offers Medical Alerts by e-mail every day of the week. To subscribe, go to: /newsalert/.

SOURCE: New England Journal of Medicine, 2006;354:36-43

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