Ablation more effective for common type of abnormal heartbeat

New cardiac electrophysiology lab opened for use January 23.

February is American Heart Month.

Atrial Fibrillation, or AFib, is an irregular heartbeat that can cause poor blood flow. It can lead to blood clots, stroke and in some cases, heart failure.

Oussama Wazni, MD, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic, said it’s important to see your doctor if it feels like your heart flip-flops or skips a beat.

“If we wait too long to address atrial fibrillation, it is more difficult for us to manage it,” he said.

Traditionally, medication is the first treatment used to manage intermittent AFib. If medication doesn’t work, doctors will try a procedure called an ablation.

Dr. Wazni led a clinical trial that found a certain type of ablation is safe and more effective than the initial treatment.

Researchers looked at 203 patients at 24 hospitals around the U.S. Patients received the standard medication or a cryo balloon ablation. After a year, 75% of the patients who received an ablation were still free from AFib. In comparison, only 45% of the patients who received medication were still AFib-free.

“If you take into account the success rate of the ablation itself, 75 percent versus 45 percent, that’s very good news for our patients. But, also, if you take into account health care utilization, those patients took medication and a big proportion of them still ended up needing an ablation,” says Dr. Wazni. “Maybe it’s time to circumvent needing to take an anti-arrhythmic drug, with all the side effects, and ineffectiveness, and just proceed with an ablation.” This was an FDA-regulated study, so it could change how doctors treat AFib in the future.