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Minimally invasive surgery for heart rhythm abnormality proven effective

St. Louis, Oct. 18, 2004 -- A minimally invasive approach to curing the most common heart rhythm abnormality, atrial fibrillation, takes half the time of the traditional surgical procedure but is equally effective, according to research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Results from the first reported clinical trial testing the procedure appear in the October issue of The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery.

"Our findings show that this technique is much easier to perform but works just as well as the more invasive approach," says principal investigator Ralph J. Damiano, M.D., the John Shoenberg Professor of Surgery and chief of cardiac surgery at the School of Medicine, and a cardiac surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. "This is very good news because it means more surgeons can perform the procedure and it will be applicable to virtually all patients with this irregular rhythm."

Atrial fibrillation affects more than two million Americans. Normally, electric signals trigger the synchronized contraction of muscles in the heart's two upper chambers, the atria. During atrial fibrillation, a chaotic web of electric impulses spreads throughout the atria, causing the chambers to quiver rather than contract in unison. The result is a host of painful symptoms and significantly increased risk of heart attack or stroke. In fact, atrial fibrillation accounts for about 15 percent of all strokes in the United States.

Medications can alleviate symptoms in some patients, but they cannot cure the problem. In 1987, researchers at the School of Medicine led by James Cox, M.D., developed a surgical cure called the Cox maze procedure to control these erratic impulses. In this procedure, surgeons make small, strategically placed incisions in the atria. The slits generate scar tissues that serve as barriers, trapping abnormal electric signals in a "maze" of barricades. Only one path remains intact, guiding impulses to thei
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Contact: Gila Z. Reckess
reckessg@wustl.edu
314-286-0109
Washington University School of Medicine
18-Oct-2004


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