Posted on 12/31/2007

December 31, 2007­–Treating heart attack victims with radio waves helps reduce the likelihood that implantable defibrillators will need to jolt ailing hearts into beating properly, researchers reported last week.

The radio-wave technique involves sending a probe into the heart, finding scar tissue from an earlier heart attack, and using radio waves to destroy the portion of that scar that can catastrophically disrupt the heartbeat.

A team led by Dr. Mark Josephson of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that 64 heart attack patients who were first treated this way were less likely to develop a deadly rhythm than another 64 also given an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), but who were not treated with radio ablation. After about two years, 31 percent of the volunteers who only received a defibrillator experienced at least one shock compared with just nine percent of those who first received the radio-wave treatment.

There was not a statistically significant difference in the death rate between the two groups, but the findings may be important because the painful jolts that keep defibrillator patients alive can be deeply disturbing. About half the patients who receive them develop anxiety and depression, the researchers wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

But in a commentary also published in the journal, Dr. Mark Estes of the Tufts University School of Medicine said some people who receive an implantable defibrillator “may not reap enough benefit from ablation to justify the cost and risk” of the radio-wave treatment. 

Gene Emery, REUTERS