MAYWOOD, Il. -- Treating a common heart rhythm disorder by burning heart tissue with a catheter works dramatically better than drug treatments, a major international study has found.
One year after undergoing a treatment called catheter ablation, 63 percent of patients with an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation were free of any recurrent atrial arrhythmias or symptoms. By comparison, only 17 percent of those treated with drugs were arrhythmia-free. Results were so convincing the trial was halted early.
The ablation group also scored significantly higher on a quality-of-life scale.
The study included 167 patients at 19 centers, including 15 centers in the United States. Lead researcher Dr. David Wilber presented results at Heart Rhythm 2009, the Society's 30th Annual Scientific Sessions. Wilber is director of the Cardiovascular Institute at Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood, Il.
Atrial fibrillation, often called A-Fib, is the most common form of irregular heartbeat. Electrical signals, which regulate the heartbeat, become erratic. Instead of beating regularly, the upper chambers of the heart quiver. Not all the blood gets pumped out, so clots can form. Atrial fibrillation can lead to strokes and heart failure.
A-Fib patient Robin Drabant, 35, of Hanover Park, Il., said the condition once "made me feel like I was 90 years old with a failing heart." She was on a maximum dose of an A-Fib medication, which caused fatigue. Despite the drug, she still had episodes almost every day, lasting from 10 seconds to an hour or longer. "I would lose my breath and could feel my heart racing and fluttering," she said.
Wilber performed a catheter ablation on Drabant in May, 2008, and she no longer has A-Fib episodes. "I had great results," she said.
A-Fib symptoms include heart palpitations, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath and fainting. "A lot of people
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Loyola University Health System