Freezing better than medication for AF?
At least 2.7 million Americans are living with atrial fibrillation, or AF. It’s an irregular heartbeat or a “quivering” heart that left untreated, could lead to blood clots, stroke, or heart failure. Medication is the gold standard treatment, but a new study may lead to a change for doctors and patients.
Racing heart? Or a “fluttering” in your chest? They could be symptoms of AFib or AF, a condition where the heart is out of rhythm.
“The sooner we intervene and treat atrial fibrillation, the better, because if atrial fibrillation is allowed to continue, then those changes in the left atrium progress,” explained Oussama Wazni, MD, section head of electrophysiology and pacing at Cleveland Clinic.
Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic studied 200 patients with intermittent episodes of atrial fibrillation in the STOP AF FIRST trial. About half were treated with antiarrhythmic drugs, which is the standard treatment. The other participants had cryoballoon ablation; doctors inserted a balloon with liquid nitrogen to freeze the heart tissue causing the irregular heartbeat. At one year, 75 percent of the ablation patients were free from AF, compared to 45 percent of the patients on medication. Dr. Wazni says the results could eventually lead to a change in treatment.
“Maybe it’s time to circumvent needing to take an antiarrhythmic drug with all the side effects and ineffectiveness, and just proceed with an ablation,” said Dr. Wazni.
Researchers also studied the safety of cryoballoon catheter ablation as a first line treatment as part of the trial. Two safety events were observed in the catheter ablation arm, including a heart attack that doctors could not directly attribute to the ablation procedure. He says overall, the study showed the catheter procedure to be safe.
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