A new method for treating atrial fibrillation could potentially lead to a doubling of the success rate for treatment for the serious heart condition, according to a new study.
Atrial fibrillation is a condition in which the upper chambers of the heart beat rapidly and ineffectively, which can cause blood to pool in these chambers. If a blood clot forms, breaks free and travels to the brain, it can cause a stroke.
To prevent strokes in patients with atrial fibrillation, blood thinners are generally prescribed. But the medication carries serious risks.
Warfarin was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) more than 50 years ago to prevent strokes in patients with atrial fibrillation. But patients who use the drug must be monitored because they are at risk for dangerous internal bleeding events.
In 2010, the FDA approved Pradaxa as the first alternative to warfarin to prevent strokes in patients with atrial fibrillation. The drug was thought to be safer but new data shows the drug may be even more dangerous, putting users at risk for life threatening brain or gastrointestinal hemorrhaging.
Because of the serious side effects associated with blood thinners used to treat atrial fibrillation, other methods to treat the condition are a welcome option. The new non-surgical catheter ablation procedure involves threading a wire with a metal-tipped catheter through the body, from a vein in the groin to the heart to apply heat to the area of the heart producing the arrhythmia to stop it. The burns are generalized over larger regions of the heart and involve hours of treatment.
However, for one group of patients, doctors used a more precise method to target the source of the arrhythmia within the chambers of the heart. This method proved to be more successful, shutting down or significantly slowing atrial fibrillation in 86 percent of patients in an average of just 2.5 minutes.
The results of the study are “very gratifying,” says the study’s author, Dr. Kalyanam Shivkumar, director of the UCLA Cardiac Arrhythmia Center and professor of medicine and radiological sciences at UCLA. “This is the dawn of a new phase of managing this common arrhythmia that is mechanism-based.”