A life-changing discovery in heart research has revealed a one-off procedure to treat a common condition can also reverse heart failure and eliminate the need for lifelong medication in some patients.
Researchers at The Alfred and Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute used microchip heart monitors to confirm that cardiac ablation not only cures atrial fibrillation, but also repairs heart function in people with heart failure and removes the need for medication.
The results of the study were published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology this week.
Atrial fibrillation – or irregular heartbeat – is a common condition that affects more than 400,000 Australians (including around 10 per cent of people aged 75 and over) and can lead to heart failure in one third of cases. It is also the leading cause of stroke.
Lead researcher and Head of Electrophysiology at The Alfred, Professor Peter Kistler, said cardiac ablation is a relatively low-risk procedure where a catheter, inserted via a vein in the leg, is used to scar small sections of the heart. The scar tissue effectively stops the abnormal electrical signals that cause irregular heartbeat.
“We are very excited by these findings, which will have significant benefits for patients with heart failure caused by atrial fibrillation,” Professor Kistler said.
“Heart failure is a major killer of Australians and atrial fibrillation is a leading cause of stroke, so the findings from this study are a significant breakthrough.
“This procedure leads to substantial improvements in general wellbeing and exercise tolerance, and may prevent patients from having to take daily medication for the rest of their lives.”
Patients who underwent cardiac ablation as part of the study had microchip heart monitors, the size of a paper-clip, implanted to confirm that ablation had been successful. State- of-the-art cardiac MRI scanning was utilised to assess patients’ heart function and recovery in detail.
Patients who suffer atrial fibrillation can experience fluttering or thumping in the chest, dizziness, shortness of breath and anxiety, weakness, faintness or confusion, and fatigue.