People with atrial fibrillation may live longer after undergoing a minimally invasive procedure known as catheter ablation, according to a study published by researchers from University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center. Atrial fibrillation, or a-fib, significantly increases the risk for stroke and death. This new study shows that catheter ablation can reduce that risk.

More than four million people in the United States suffer from a-fib, a condition characterized by an irregular heart rhythm. The four chambers of a healthy heart contract regularly and rhythmically at slightly different times to push blood through those chambers then onto the rest of the body. During atrial fibrillation, the upper two atrial chambers of the heart short circuit so they flutter instead of producing effective, regular contractions. This means the heart does a poor job of pumping blood from one chamber to another; blood pools in the atria instead of moving to the rest of the body.

Risks of A-Fib

The greatest risk of having a-fib is that it can lead to other serious medical problems, especially stroke. Blood pooling in the atria tends to clot. These clots can then travel to the brain and block off blood supply, causing a stroke.

In addition to stroke, A-fib increases your risk for heart failure, chronic fatigue, inconsistent blood supply, and the development of other heart rhythm problems.

Catheter Ablation for A-Fib

Catheter ablation is a common but very technically advanced procedure where a surgeon inserts a long, flexible tube, known as a catheter, into the upper chambers of the heart. The physician then delivers radiofrequency energy into the atria to disrupt the short circuits causing a-fib.

The study is one of the first and longest of any study investigating the benefits of catheter ablation for those with a-fib. Researchers looked at the 10-year medical history of 3,058 adult patients who had undergone catheter ablation. The typical subject in the study was a 58-year-old male experiencing paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, meaning the irregular heart rhythms associated with a-fib would come and go on their own.

The study results, published in the medical journal Heart Rhythm, show the number of deaths from cardiovascular problems dropped by 60 percent after catheter ablation. Even older patients, people with diabetes, and those with a history of stroke, heart disease, and sleep apnea benefited from catheter ablation.

If you have atrial fibrillation, talk with Dr. Mathew to find out if catheter ablation is right for you.