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Procedure Trumps Drugs for Atrial Fibrillation

Procedure Trumps Drugs for Atrial Fibrillation

An irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation responds better to a procedure to inactivate a small area of heart tissue than to drugs. Atrial fibrillation causes an irregular pulse, a rapid and often weak heartbeat and may lead to stroke or heart failure.

In the study, 61 patients were randomly assigned to receive anti-arrhythmic drugs and 106 had radiofrequency catheter ablation. In this procedure, a tiny tube called a catheter is threaded into the heart through a blood vessel to direct a pulse of low-voltage high frequency energy.

After nine months, 66 percent of those treated by procedure were free of arrhythmia compared to 16 percent of those treated with drugs. There were also fewer adverse reactions in the first month among those treated with catheter ablation than among those treated with drugs, and quality of life was rated better. The investigators suggest that patients with atrial fibrillation try a medication first. If it does not work, the ablation procedure could be the next step.

[Journal of the American Medical Association, Jan. 27, 2010]

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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