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Costlier Heart Device May Not Be Worth It: Study

Dual-chamber implanted defibrillators had more complications than single-chamber models

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An expert who was not involved in the research praised the study, but said its findings come with an important caveat. The study wasn't able to measure so-called "inappropriate" shocks, instances when the devices misfire after sensing an irregular, but harmless, heartbeat.

Patients describe the powerful jolt as feeling like they're being kicked or hit with a baseball bat. Inappropriate shocks can be a major quality-of-life issue for patients who get them frequently.

Dr. Gregg Fonarow, director of the Cardiomyopathy Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the dual-chamber defibrillator may have an advantage in that regard.

"A dual-chamber ICD device, along with its extra atrial lead, is frequently chosen in the belief that it will better discriminate fast heart rates originating in the upper versus lower chambers of the heart and thereby reduce the risk of inappropriate shocks from the device," said Fonarow.

Peterson agreed that not being able to study inappropriate shocks to patients was a limitation of the study. However, she said, "data that has looked at that doesn't demonstrate that there's a benefit of dual-chamber devices in decreasing inappropriate shocks."

Another question they weren't able to address in the study was cost. Single-chamber devices are initially less expensive than dual-chamber models.

A study published in September 2005 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology said it costs roughly $34,000 for a single-chamber device and about $38,000 for a dual-chamber model.

But that study also found that the cost savings of single-chamber devices can be wiped out if patients need to upgrade to the dual-chamber model because their condition gets worse, a situation that occurs in about 5 to 6 percent of patients in clinical trials.

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