Most people who develop atrial fibrillation are first treated with medications, but medicine only works for about 50% of patients. So then what are your options?
Catheter ablation is a relatively new procedure that may help people with atrial fibrillation. Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure. Small thin flexible catheters are passed through blood vessels to reach the heart and then deliver electrical energy that ablates (destroys) abnormal electrical tissue in the heart that is causing the abnormal heart rhythm.
The Department of Health & Human Services and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently released a report evaluating the benefits of catheter ablation procedures for people with atrial fibrillation. The report can be found at http://www.effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov
The report summary states that catheter ablation may “hold promise for treating atrial fibrillation” but more research is needed on this procedure, especially in women, the elderly and people with heart failure or high blood pressure. The report found that catheter ablation has been shown to help maintain a normal heart rhythm over short periods of time (up to 1 year) but there is little evidence to show long term benefit. Also there is no data to prove the effectiveness of catheter ablation as a first line therapy, before trialing medications to control the irregular heart rhythm. The FDA also stated that there is no conclusive evidence of a lower stroke risk in people who undergo catheter ablation. So patients at risk for a stroke should continue taking preventative blood-thinning medications.
Further studies are ongoing and this may be a treatment to consider in patients with atrial fibrillation but the indications and benefits should be discussed on an individual basis with your heart specialist.
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