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Freezing, Medicating Away a Dangerous Irregular Heart Rhythm
Date:3/15/2010

New studies suggest promising new ways to ease atrial fibrillation

MONDAY, March 15 (HealthDay News) -- New data presented at a major cardiology meeting Monday brought mostly good news on atrial fibrillation, the potentially dangerous abnormal heartbeat that afflicts more than 2 million Americans.

In atrial fibrillation, the two upper chambers (atria) of the heart can quiver or race irregularly, rather than beating steadily. Blood can pool in the atria, leading to blood clots that can cause heart attack, stroke or other major problems. Standard drug treatment is effective only half the time in controlling this abnormal heart rhythm.

But two successful trials of different techniques of simply eliminating ("ablating") the small portion of heart muscle responsible for the rhythm abnormality were described at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Atlanta.

Both methods involve the insertion of a catheter, a thin, flexible tube, into a heart blood vessel.

One trial described by researcher Dr. Douglas L. Packer, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., used a cryogenic -- frozen-tip -- catheter to treat 245 people with a form of atrial fibrillation in which there are unpredictable episodes of irregular or racing heartbeat.

One year later, nearly 70 percent of those who had the freezing treatment were free of atrial fibrillation and did not require drug therapy, compared to just 7 percent of those who had standard drug treatment. Less than 1 percent of those given cryogenic treatment had to be hospitalized, compared to 6 percent of those who received drug treatment.

The study was funded by Medtronic, which makes the cryogenic device.

Another study, also outlined by Packer, used a catheter to deliver radiofrequency energy around the entrance point of the veins from the lungs, where most of the abnormal electrical signals that cause atrial fibrillati
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