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Health Team

New drug may help with irregular heartbeat

Posted July 13, 2009 5:41 p.m. EDT
Updated July 15, 2009 11:44 a.m. EDT

 Medicine

For 17 years, Joseph Rubin's heart often skipped a beat. He has atrial fibrillation, a form of arrhythmia.

Rubin, 51, loves to work out and has tried every available option to keep his heart beating normally.

"There's nothing out there that's working for me," he said.

Now there is new hope for millions like Rubin. The FDA approved a new drug, Multaq, that has fewer side effects than other medicines. It may be the answer to help the two and a half million Americans with atrial fibrillation.

Sometimes the heart produces extra electric impulses, causing an irregular heart beat. When it's out of rhythm, it doesn't pump blood efficiently. "It can pool and form deadly clots," Dr. Ken Stein, of the Weill Cornell Medical Center, explained.

Multaq failed to get FDA approval in 2006. Tests back then showed it could be dangerous for high-risk patients. It's not recommended for people with serious underlying heart disease, especially older patients.

Doctors often see benefits for others though, because it has fewer side effects than other medications.

"We just can't wait until it's available in the pharmacy to give to people," Stein said.

Rubin knows his heart can skip out of rhythm at any time, but now he knows there's a drug that might fix it.

"It's nice to know there's a backup available," he said. "It's huge."

Patients with arrhythmia should consult with a cardiologist about whether Multaq is right for them.