‘Keep it simple’ when treating serious heart condition

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Ground-breaking Research led by Southlake Doctor proves that a simple heart procedure is more effective than other options that require additional intervention

Imagine feeling like your heart is racing all the time. A new study shows that, for more than 200,000 people across Canada who suffer from atrial fibrillation (AF), treating the condition is simpler than first thought.

Southlake Regional Health Centre’s Cardiac Care Program is once again celebrating as new ground-breaking research led by Dr. Atul Verma, Electrophysiologist and Director of Arrhythmia Services for the Regional Cardiac Care Program, could change the way clinicians look at treating heart conditions.

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“The results are dramatic and will likely change guidelines that currently recommend doing more involved interventional procedures to treat AF,” says Dr. Verma. “Although we often think that doing more is better for the patient, it is important to test this in proper clinical trials. Sometimes more is not better.”

Ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that can be done to treat patients with atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm problem. Some patients are in AF all the time and suffer from palpitations, shortness of breath and fatigue. Until recently, it was believed that you had to perform extra ablation on top of the standard procedure to get better results.

It turns out that the findings of this new international research study show that the simplest and fastest way to treat persistent AF by ablation has proven to be as effective as the other two most common, more complicated, techniques that require additional intervention.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, ‘Approaches to Catheter Ablation for Persistent Atrial Fibrillation,’ was led by Dr. Atul Verma, Electrophysiologist and Director of Arrhythmia Services at Southlake in Newmarket, Ontario.

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“I am thrilled that we have produced this level of research here at Southlake. This really speaks to the cutting-edge, international caliber of cardiac care we offer,” says Dr. Verma. “I’m very happy that data from our hospital has the potential to change practice around the world and make a difference for the patients we treat.”

Southlake President and CEO Dr. Dave Williams echos those sentiments, “I am so excited to see Dr. Atul Verma’s study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most prestigious medical journals. Our clinicians are at the forefront of innovative research that creates the potential to further elevate the world-class care we provide to Southlake cardiac patients. I am very proud of the level of clinical research that is happening at our hospital.”

The study followed 589 patients with AF, from 48 centres, in 12 countries. They were enrolled between November 2010 and July 2012. Patients were randomly assigned to one of three procedures. One was the “standard” shorter procedure which involves using small wires inside the heart to burn away abnormal tissues around the pulmonary veins (an area that has been shown to transmit electrical signals that trigger AF). The other two procedures involved adding more ablation to the standard procedure. Patients were then rigorously monitored each week for 18 months.

In the end, doctors involved in the research study were surprised to learn that patients experienced the same, if not better results, after undergoing the shorter “standard” ablation procedure compared to patients who had the more extensive procedures.

Affecting millions of people worldwide, AF is a condition in which the upper chambers of the heart beat rapidly and erratically, disturbing the heart’s ability to adequately pump blood to its lower chambers and the rest of the body. The condition is responsible for 15 to 20 per cent of all strokes, is a contributor to heart failure and is a leading cause of hospitalizations, causing debilitating symptoms and poor quality of life.