According to a new study, adult patients with atrial fibrillation whose heart rhythm is successfully restored with a minimally invasive procedure called catheter ablation have a significantly reduced chance of early death from a heart attack or heart failure. The team, from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, reported their findings in the journal Heart Rhythm. Atrial fibrillation is an age-related heart rhythm disorder caused by electrical “short circuits” in the heart that impair its ability to pump blood efficiently and cause fluttering sensations in the chest. People with atrial fibrillation have a higher risk of stroke and heart attacks, and also suffer a significantly lower quality of life. According to the World Heart Federation, it’s the most common sustained abnormal heart rhythm condition worldwide. In Europe and the US, there are said to be an estimated 9 million people with the condition, with numbers that are set to increase.
Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure where an electrophysiologist delivers radiofrequency energy to the heart muscle through a specially designed catheter inserted into the left atrium or chamber of the heart. The idea of the procedure is to disrupt the short-circuits that are causing the irregular heart rhythm. The catheter is inserted with a needle into a vein that runs up to the heart from the groin. Then, a three-dimensional mapping system on a computer helps the doctor guide the catheter precisely to the correct location in the heart.
In this latest study, the U-M researchers showed that death from cardiovascular events dropped by 60% among adults who had their normal heart rhythm successfully restored with catheter ablation. According to the lead author of the study, these findings show the benefit of catheter ablation extends beyond just improving quality of life for adults with atrial fibrillation. If successful, ablation improves overall life span. Researchers found that even older patients gained the cardiovascular survival benefits of the procedure, as well as those with diabetes or a history of stroke, or who had sleep apnea, a condition traditionally associated with an early sign of heart failure. For their investigation, the team examined 10 years of follow-up medical data on over 3,000 adults who had received catheter ablation as a treatment for paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, which is where the condition comes and goes on its own. Most of the participants, whose average age was 58 when they received the treatment, were men.