Procedure Can 'Cure' Atrial Fibrillation
Radiofrequency Technique More Effective Than Drugs
But with results called "striking" in an accompanying editorial to his study, published in the July 16 issue the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Pappone says doctors may advocate the procedure for those with milder but still life-affecting forms of atrial fibrillation.
"Generally speaking, the vast majority of patients with atrial fibrillation are good candidates for a pulmonary vein ablation procedure," he tells WebMD. "This innovative, non-pharmacological kind of treatment to cure atrial fibrillation allows patients to become drug free in a relatively short time, greatly enhancing their quality of life."
But the procedure is not without its risks -- including a slight chance of triggering a stroke or other complications, says Eric N. Prystowsky, MD, director of the the Clinical Electrophysicology Laboratory at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianiapolisis.
About 2% of patients who get the procedure have complications such as stroke, severe shortness of breath resulting from damaging a pulmonary vein, or a potentially life-threatneing condition resulting from perforating the heart, says Prystowsky.
"I've had patients turn down ablation because they didn't want any risk of a stroke; 2% was too high," he tells WebMD. "The risk is really operator-dependent, so you need the procedure to be done by someone with experience." He recommends finding an experienced electrophysiologist through the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology.
Still, Prystowsky calls Pappone's study the latest evidence that ablation offers "a very reasonable chance of a total cure" and the chance to allow atrial fibrillation patients to stop taking blood-thinning drugs and other drugs.
"If you can cure an abnormal rhythm rather than put a Band-Aid on it with drugs, the patient will inevitably do better," he says."My experience is that when people know they are cured, that constant back-of-their-mind feeling that they can go at any day -- even while taking medication -- is a huge relief."