People with atrial fibrillation, a common type of irregular heartbeat, should be referred for a surgical treatment called catheter ablation if an oral medication is not effective, said the authors of a study released Tuesday.
In a head-to-head comparison of the two forms of treatment, catheter ablation was so superior in resolving the disorder and helping patients to feel better that the study was halted early. The results will be published today in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.
Atrial fibrillation, which affects more than 2 million Americans, occurs when the heart’s two small upper chambers quiver instead of beating effectively. It can cause blood to pool and clot, raising the risk of a stroke. The condition can go undetected indefinitely, though many people have symptoms such as palpitations, dizziness, chest pain, fatigue and shortness of breath. Once considered a nuisance, the condition is now recognized as a potential precursor to stroke that should be treated.