A study backed by the National Institute of Health found that catheter ablation is no more effective than drug therapies for patients with atrial fibrillation.

Researchers revealed that the minimally invasive procedure performed similarly to medication in protecting patients from possible complications, including stroke and death. However, they confirmed that those who had catheter ablation reported signs of relief and improved quality of life.

Their findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Friday, March 15.

Is Surgery Better Than Drug Therapy?

The researchers recruited 2,200 patients from 126 sites across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia to participate in the Catheter Ablation Versus Anti-arrhythmic Drug Therapy for Atrial Fibrillation (CABANA) Trial. The participants, all of whom have atrial fibrillation, were divided into two groups: one was enrolled in drug therapy while the other received catheter ablation.

The participants were given the option to undergo catheter ablation during the trial period if their symptoms were not alleviated by drug therapy. According to the researchers, 27 percent of the patients in the drug therapy group ended up receiving catheter ablation.

The researchers observed the health and well-being of the participants for 48.5 months.

The study reported that the quality of life from both groups was significantly improved just 12 months after the trial began. However, those in the catheter ablation group were less likely to experience symptoms of atrial fibrillations such as fatigue and shortness of breath. The participants who underwent the invasive procedure also said that its positive effects lasted up to five years.

By the end of the study, the participants from both groups reported that their symptoms were significantly alleviated. From 86 percent at the beginning of the trial, the patients who underwent catheter ablation said they experienced symptoms of atrial fibrillation. Among the drug therapy group, the rate decreased from 84 percent to 35 percent by the end of the trial.

The researchers also reported that the occurrence of stroke and death during the trial was lower than expected.

Atrial Fibrillation Treatment

In the United States, atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm problem, affects at least 2.7 million Americans. The condition increases the risk of stroke and heart failure.

“Since current drug therapies often have limited effectiveness in controlling atrial fibrillation, it is very important to understand whether ablation, an invasive procedure, yields better outcomes,” explained David Goff, director of the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

The researchers hope that their findings will help inform doctors decide how to manage patients with atrial fibrillation.

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