November 11, 2008

Heating Heart with Catheter Better than Drugs for Common Heart Rhythm Disorder

Loyola Study Finds Catheter Ablation Superior to Medication for Atrial Fibrillation

MAYWOOD, Il. -- Treating a common heart rhythm disorder by burning heart tissue with a catheter works dramatically better than drug treatments, a major international study has found.

One year after undergoing a treatment called catheter ablation, 75 percent of patients with an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation were free of symptoms. By comparison, only 21 percent of those treated with drugs were symptom-free. Results were so convincing the trial was halted early.

The ablation group also scored significantly higher on a quality-of-life scale

The study included 159 patients at 19 centers, including 15 centers in the United States. Results were presented at the American Heart Association 2008 Scientific Sessions in New Orleans by lead researcher Dr. David Wilber, director of the Cardiovascular Institute at Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood, Il.

Atrial fibrillation, often called A-Fib, is the most common form of irregular heartbeat. Electrical signals, which regulate the heartbeat, become erratic. Instead of beating regularly, the upper chambers of the heart quiver. Not all the blood gets pumped out, so clots can form. Atrial fibrillation can lead to strokes and heart failure.

A-Fib patient Robin Drabant, 34, of Hanover Park, Il., said the condition once "made me feel like I was 90 years old with a failing heart." She was on a maximum dose of an A-Fib medication, which caused fatigue. Despite the drug, she still had episodes almost every day, lasting from 10 seconds to an hour or longer. "I would lose my breath and could feel my heart racing and fluttering," she said.

Wilber performed a catheter ablation on Drabant last May, and she no longer has A-Fib episodes. "I had great results," she said.

A-Fib symptoms include heart palpitations, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath and fainting. "A lot of people are disabled," Wilber said. "They have no energy. They can't work. They have a very poor quality of life."

More than 2 million Americans have atrial fibrillation, and there are about 160,000 new cases each year. The number is increasing, due in part to the aging population and the obesity epidemic.

Drugs such as beta blockers and calcium channel blockers can slow the heart rate during an A-Fib episode. Other drugs such as flecainide and propafenone can help maintain a normal rhythm. When drugs don't work or produce unacceptable side effects, alternative treatments include a pacemaker, surgery and catheter ablation.

In the ablation procedure, an electrophysiologist destroys small areas of heart tissue that are responsible for the erratic electrical signals. A catheter (thin flexible tube) is guided through blood vessels to the heart. The tip of the catheter delivers radiofrequency energy that heats and destroys tissue. Possible adverse effects include irritation of the lining of the heart, fluid in the lungs or around the heart, bleeding, clots and stroke.

In the study, 103 patients with frequent episodes of atrial fibrillation were randomly assigned to undergo ablation and 56 similar patients were randomly assigned to receive drug therapy. All patients had experienced at least three episodes of atrial fibrillation during the previous six months and had failed at least one attempt to control the rhythm with drugs.

The study was funded by Biosense Webster, which makes the ThermoCool catheter used in the trial. Wilber is a consultant to the company.

The study was the largest to date to compare ablation to drug therapy for atrial fibrillation. Earlier studies involved single centers and smaller sample sizes, Wilber said. An additional study called CABANA is designed to determine whether ablation patients live longer than patients receiving medication. Researchers will follow about 3,000 patients for three years.

 

###

Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, Loyola University Health System is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and 25 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus, Loyola University Hospital, is a 570-licensed bed facility. It houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Health & Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 250-bed community hospital, the Gottlieb Health & Fitness Center and the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Care Center.

About Loyola Medicine and Trinity Health

Loyola Medicine, a member of Trinity Health, is a quaternary care system based in the western suburbs of Chicago that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, MacNeal Hospital and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from 1,877 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital in Maywood that includes the William G. and Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. Having delivered compassionate care for over 50 years, Loyola also trains the next generation of caregivers through its teaching affiliation with Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Gottlieb is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital in Melrose Park with 150 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-bed teaching hospital in Berwyn with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, advanced diagnostics and treatments. MacNeal has a 12-bed acute rehabilitation unit, a 25-bed inpatient skilled nursing facility, and a 68-bed behavioral health program and community clinics. MacNeal has provided quality, patient-centered care to the near west suburbs since 1919.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic healthcare systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 92 hospitals, as well as 109 continuing care locations that include PACE programs, senior living facilities and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $18.3 billion and assets of $26.2 billion, the organization returns $1.1 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity employs about 129,000 colleagues, including 7,800 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services—ranked by number of visits—in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs.