Health Team

Catheter procedure new way to treat arrhythmia

Posted January 26, 2010

A catheter treatment is more effective than drug therapy in treating some patients with atrial fibrillation, according to new research.

Atrial fibrillation is a common heart rhythm problem that increases the risk of stroke, heart failure and even death. In a three-year study  of 167 patients who had a form of intermittent atrial fibrillation, one group was treated with anti-arrhythmic drugs, while the others had catheter ablation.

The procedure involves inserting a catheter in a patient's blood vessel and guiding it up to his or her heart. Radio frequency energy is then applied to heat up the tissue near the catheter and destroy muscle tissue where abnormal heartbeats might cause an arrhythmia to start.

"The goal is to destroy the muscle around the pulmonary veins in order to prevent those transmissions of electrical impulses to the rest of the heart," said Dr. David Wilbur, a cardiologist at Loyola University Medical Center, in suburban Chicago.

Catheter procedure used to treat arrhythmia Catheter procedure used to treat arrhythmia

Sixty to 70 percent of the catheter group never had another episode of arrhythmia. The results were so promising that researchers stopped the study early.

"In contrast, patients treated with drug therapy had somewhere between an 80 and 90 percent recurrence of arrhythmias over that time frame," Wilbur said.

Robin Drabant, who has had atrial fibrillation since she was a teen, underwent a catheter ablation two years ago.

"My heart would just start racing, and I would kind of lose my breath, and usually it only lasted for a couple of seconds, but as I got older, they got progressively worse and more frequent," Drabant said, recalling her episodes of arrhythmia.

She said the catheter procedure has changed her life.

"It was the best decision I've ever made because my quality of life is just so much more improved," she said. "I'm a normal 36-year-old and very glad I did it."


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  • ccb711 Jan 29, 2010

    To follow up on GWilson's comment...Duke Drs now put the patients under general anesthesia for afib ablations. May do something different for other types of ablations.

  • gwilson270 Jan 28, 2010

    I had this procedure about 6 years ago at the VA Hosp in Durham by Drs from Duke across the street from the VA. No episodes since and let me tell you it was miserable and frightening before. Everything in life has dangers and may not work for everyone but I sure stand by it and recommend it for anyone who is not afraid to try it. I was awake and watched the procedure on a monitor and listened to the Drs talk while they worked.

  • pmck Jan 28, 2010

    Yes - these procedures are done at Duke & UNC on a daily basis with excellent results. Talk with your doctor. Many new treatments are available for treating abnormal heart rhythms.

  • jvalente13 Jan 27, 2010

    Just as in any surgery, there ARE risks. I had this procedure done 15 years ago and have been free of any episodes with a racing heart. However, my brother (who was 53 years old at the time), had the same surgery done approx 8 years ago with disasterous results ~ a series of horrible mistakes which resulted in his death due to severve brain trauma during the actual surgery. Please speak to both your family and doctor before making such a decision ~ you must feel completely comfortable and confident in all aspects. (I later found out that my brother was not feeling confident about his surgery). It is a good surgery which can produce good results, but it is not for everyone.

  • ccb711 Jan 27, 2010

    Why is Duke's atrial fibrillation center not mentioned in the article? They have excellent facilities, latest equipment, and very experienced and knowledgeable Drs (Electrophysiologists).
    Ablations are very safe and effective for 60-70% of patients on the first ablation and 80-95% with second ablations. Rarely is a 3rd ablation required.
    Ablation procedures when I first started afib in 2002 were not recommended, but advancements in the equipment and methodology has improved so much that they are very effective, safe, and the best treatment for afib in most people who have failed drug therapy. I had my second ablation recently and would highly recommend Duke's atrial fibrillation facility and team.

  • danwalter1122 Jan 27, 2010

    Catheter Ablation for Atrial Fibrillation is dangerous and unproven:

  • Grandpeople Jan 27, 2010

    I have this condition and when I ask the Dr. about this procedure, she says it isn't that reliable. I wonder why. These studies seem to be very promising. I am tired of all the medications that I have to take and have since 2006. My worst fear is getting somewhere when I am alone and have it start to race. It makes me feel sick and dizzy. I think I will contact the Dr. in the article. 1967ee I am so sorry to hear about your dad.

  • 1967EE Jan 27, 2010

    I bet this procedure would have saved my daddy's life, but he refused it, saying it was too unsafe. He died from sudden cardiac arrest 4 months ago at the young age of 71. Those who knew him were shocked - the picture of health - and we all thought he'd live to be at least a 100 years old. RIP R.L.B.