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Burning Heart Tissue Beats Atrial Fibrillation
Date:1/26/2010

If drugs don't work, catheter ablation does the job, study finds

TUESDAY, Jan. 26 (HealthDay News) -- When drug therapy can't control the dangerous heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation, burning out the cardiac tissue responsible for the abnormality will do the job in most cases, a new study has found.

Called catheter ablation, the burning technique ended episodes of abnormal heartbeat and improved the quality of life over a nine-month period for two-thirds of the people in the study who had the procedure, compared with 16 percent of those who were started on a new drug regimen.

The finding was reported in the Jan. 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart have episodes in which they quiver rather than beat to circulate blood. The episodes are often uncomfortable, causing chest tightness, pain and other symptoms. In addition, clots can form in the stagnant blood, traveling to block arteries and causing heart attacks or strokes. An estimated 2 million Americans have the condition, which becomes more common with aging.

A variety of drugs are used to treat atrial fibrillation, but initial drug therapy will not satisfy about half the people with the condition, said study author Dr. David J. Wilber, who is director of the Cardiovascular Institute at Loyola University Medical Center in Illinois.

"What has become clear is that once you fail one drug, your chances of responding to another drug are limited," he said. At that point, Wilber said, he might suggest catheter ablation, in which an electrical impulse is transmitted to eliminate the source of the irregular heartbeat.

The study, done at 19 hospitals in the United States and abroad, included 167 people whose atrial fibrillation was not controlled by one or more drugs. Of that group, 106 people had catheter ablation treatment and 61 were given a d
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