New Life For Old Heart Treatment

Millions of Americans suffer from an irregular heart rhythm. A substantial number of them will have to take medication for the rest of their lives to control their arrhythmia. New research shows a decade-old procedure can provide them with a safer, more effective alternative to drug therapy.

Radiofrequency Catheter Ablation (RCA) is an increasingly common operation in which doctors burn away heart tissue to eliminate rhythm disturbances. Over 1,000 patients took part in the largest study ever done of the procedure. Results showed a 95 percent success rate and a low risk of complications.

Researcher Dr. Eric Prystowsky of the Indiana Heart Institute in Indianapolis says, "This procedure has clearly moved into a front-line therapy of choice." He added that the results should encourage doctors to consider RCA over drugs when treating patients with certain irregular rhythms, including a rapid heartbeat.

During the operation a catheter is threaded through blood vessels in the groin, arm, or leg and up into the heart. A device at the tip of the catheter is then used to burn away tissue containing nerve pathways that cause the heart to misfire. The surgery generally costs around $10,000 and is usually covered by insurance, although insurers frequently require that drugs be tried first.

The findings of the study were published in Tuesday's issue of Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association.