In several presentations at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2003, and in a new paper in the Nov. 12 issue of the AHA journal Circulation, heart rhythm specialists from the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center report their dramatic success in treating atrial fibrillation patients using a technique called radiofrequency catheter ablation.
The reports show that more than 85 percent of patients with intermittent AF were cured after a single session of catheter ablation, and no longer required medications to stabilize their heartbeat and cut their risk of clotting and strokes. Complication rates were extremely low.
"In all, we have treated more than 500 patients in the last three years and have achieved very favorable results in these patients," says cardiologist Hakan Oral, M.D., lead author of the Circulation paper and the U-M presentations at AHA. "It's still a technically challenging procedure, but we hope to continue to simplify and improve it, and train others to perform it."
Catheter ablation aims to counteract irregular electrical impulses in heart muscle by delivering tiny bursts of intense radiofrequency waves to the areas of disorganized electrical activity. The radio wave "zap" heats the target areas of tissue, a process called ablation, but spares nearby tissue.
The catheters that record electrical signals in the tissue and deliver the radiofrequency energy are carefully inserted through the groin of a sedated patient, and wind through the major blood vessels and into the heart. Then, the catheter head pokes through the septum that divides the heart vertically, and enters the left atrium.