Atrial fibrillation is a complication that can stop the blood from getting pumped out completely of the atria, causing it to clot which can lead to additional health risks.
The disorder can be treated by cardiac ablation, a technique that involves transmission of energy through a catheter placed in the heart to remove parts of the heart tissue that cause the arrhythmia.
Dr. John D. Day, lead researcher, a cardiologist, and electrophysiologist at the Heart Institute at Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City stated, "If we can eliminate atrial fibrillation, we can potentially help to reduce the risk of premature death, stroke, dementia and Alzheimer's disease from atrial fibrillation."
The focus of the study was to ascertain whether treatment of the heart disorder could prevent other health problems.
The researchers analyzed the medical data of nearly 38,000 patients. All were of the same gender with an average age of 65. Of these, 4,200 suffered from atrial fibrillation and were treated with a catheter ablation.
These patients were compared to 16,800 who had the same condition but were treated with medication. The first group was also compared to another 16,800 who did not have the heart disorder.
Findings of the study
After following the patients for three years, the investigators noted that ablation cured the heart complication in 80 percent of the patients who underwent the procedure.
In addition, six percent of ablation patients died compared to 23.5 percent of the patients on medication and nine percent of those without heart disorder.
Other highlights of the study
The researchers found that 0.2 percent of the ablation patients developed Alzheimer's compared to 0.9 percent on the medication and 0.5 percent without any heart condition.
About 0.4 percent patients treated with ablation developed other forms of dementia, compared to 1.9 percent treated by medicines.
The catheter ablation patients also exhibited a lower risk of stroke and death. About 2.2 percent who had ablation had a stroke compared to 4.7 percent of those treated with medication.
Day stated, "The risk of dying, the risk of stroke, the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease were all significantly reduced in the patients who underwent an ablation procedure than those treated with medications -- so much so that the long term risk was as if they did not have atrial fibrillation at all."
The findings were presented at Heart Rhythm 2010, the Heart Rhythm Society's annual scientific meeting, in Denver.