Electrical energy may help patients with AFib

New study on treating intermittent atrial fibrillation

Author: Jodi Mohrmann, Managing editor of special projects, jmohrmann@wjxt.com
Published On: Feb 18 2014 05:17:26 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 18 2014 04:00:00 PM EST

A new Canadian study finds people with intermittent atrial fibrillation may benefit from electrical energy as a first-line treatment. It's called radiofrequency ablation and researchers say it can lower the rate of abnormal atrial rhythms and the number of overall episodes.

"Not only was there a decrease in the occurrence of atrial arrhythmia, but also there was a decrease in symptomatic atrial fibrillation in those patients who were randomized to the atrial fibrillation ablation arm compared to the suppressive medication arm," explained Cleveland Clinic Cardiologist Dr. Walid Saliba.

Radiofrequency ablation is typically used to decrease pain symptoms by sending an electrical current to a small area of nerve tissue.  But now in the field of cardiology it's being looked at as a first-line therapy in people with intermittent atrial fibrillation.

It's relatively new to the field and is typically used after drug treatments have failed. In the study, McMaster University researchers compared the technique to drug treatment.  The study included 127 people. 61 took medication, while 66 had ablation.

Results show abnormal rhythms lasting longer than 30 seconds occurred more often in the drug group than the ablation group.  Ablation may also decrease the number of overall episodes.

Researchers say using electrical energy may be a viable first option for treating this type of atrial fibrillation.  Saliba, who did not take part in the study, agrees.

"So, patient comes in, you discuss the treatment options- medication vs. ablation," Saliba said. "This kind of study allows you, essentially, to consider radiofrequency ablation as a first-line therapy before even going through medications."

Complete findings for this study are in the Journal of the American Medical Association.