But that does not mean that catheter ablation is the first choice for treatment of atrial fibrillation, Wilber noted. He said he suggests it only when drug therapy clearly is not working, with the choice largely left up to the person with the condition.
"Some patients may say they want to try anything else first, some say they want the invasive procedure [catheter ablation]," he said. "This study offers the possibility of catheter ablation replacing drug therapy in these cases because the trial shows those patients do better."
Catheter ablation does have its risks, Wilber acknowledged. Previous studies have found a complication rate of 1 percent to 5 percent, he said. No such complications were seen in the new study.
"The amount of heart tissue that is destroyed has a relatively small effect on heart function," Wilber said. "That tissue isn't missed by the heart as much as you might expect."
And though many large medical centers are equipped for catheter ablation, expertise in the technique can differ, he said. "There is a very large range of experience," Wilber said. People considering the procedure should check published reports of clinical trials for evidence of a given medical center's expertise.
"I don't think there is a simple way right now" to do this, Wilber said, adding that "there is considerable interest in a national registry, as for heart surgery."
Dr. Frank Marchlinski, director of the electrophysiology program at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the research team, said the study "demonstrates convincingly that, with catheter ablation, the outcome is dramatically better."
Like Wilber, Marchlinski said he, too, would suggest the procedure when drug therapy isn't working.
"I give patients that information, describe the opportunity
All rights reserved