Doctors & patients are saying about 'A-Fib.com'...


"A-Fib.com is a great web site for patients, that is unequaled by anything else out there."

Dr. Douglas L. Packer, MD, FHRS, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN

"Jill and I put you and your work in our prayers every night. What you do to help people through this [A-Fib] process is really incredible."

Jill and Steve Douglas, East Troy, WI 

“I really appreciate all the information on your website as it allows me to be a better informed patient and to know what questions to ask my EP. 

Faye Spencer, Boise, ID, April 2017

“I think your site has helped a lot of patients.”

Dr. Hugh G. Calkins, MD  Johns Hopkins,
Baltimore, MD


Doctors & patients are saying about 'Beat Your A-Fib'...


"If I had [your book] 10 years ago, it would have saved me 8 years of hell.”

Roy Salmon, Patient, A-Fib Free,
Adelaide, Australia

"This book is incredibly complete and easy-to-understand for anybody. I certainly recommend it for patients who want to know more about atrial fibrillation than what they will learn from doctors...."

Pierre Jaïs, M.D. Professor of Cardiology, Haut-Lévêque Hospital, Bordeaux, France

"Dear Steve, I saw a patient this morning with your book [in hand] and highlights throughout. She loves it and finds it very useful to help her in dealing with atrial fibrillation."

Dr. Wilber Su,
Cavanaugh Heart Center, 
Phoenix, AZ

"...masterful. You managed to combine an encyclopedic compilation of information with the simplicity of presentation that enhances the delivery of the information to the reader. This is not an easy thing to do, but you have been very, very successful at it."

Ira David Levin, heart patient, 
Rome, Italy

"Within the pages of Beat Your A-Fib, Dr. Steve Ryan, PhD, provides a comprehensive guide for persons seeking to find a cure for their Atrial Fibrillation."

Walter Kerwin, MD, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA


Drug Therapies

A-Fib Drug Therapy: If We’re Sick, Just Take a Pill, Right?

In the US, we’ve been conditioned to think, “if we’re sick, just take a pill”.

When you have Atrial Fibrillation, anti-arrhythmic drug (AAD) therapy is certainly better than living a life in A-Fib. It can be useful for many patients.

And according to Dr. Peter Kowey, Lankenau Heart Institute (Philadelphia, PA), while anti-arrhythmic therapy is not perfect, it can improve quality of life and functionality for a significant percentage of A-Fib patients.

Peter R. Kowey MD

P. Kowey MD

Dr Kowey is an internationally respected expert in heart rhythm disorders. His research has led to the development of dozens of new drugs and devices for treating a wide range of cardiac diseases.

He cautions, though, that A-Fib anti-arrhythmic drugs are just a stopgap measure. The problem is they don’t deal with the underlying cause. And are seldom a lasting cure for A-Fib.

The Trade-Offs of Anti-Arrhythmic Drugs

In our article, Eleven Things I Know About A-Fib Drug TherapyDr. Kowey writes:

“An anti-arrhythmic drug is a poison administered in a therapeutic concentration. Like most meds, anti-arrhythmic drugs, (AADs), are a trade-off between the unnatural and possible toxicity with the power to alleviate our A-Fib symptoms.”

Did  “an anti-arrhythmic drug is a poison” set off alarm bells for you?

In general, anti-arrhythmic drugs are toxic substances which aren’t meant to be in our bodies―so our bodies tend to reject them.

For more, see our full article with Dr. Kowey’s insights, Eleven Things I Know About A-Fib Drug Therapy. It’s based on his 2014 American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Session presentation.

Look Beyond the Typical AAD Therapy

Today’s anti-arrhythmic drugs have mediocre success rates (often under 50%).

Beyond AAD Therapy

Many patients often experience unacceptable side effects. Many just stop taking them. And when they do work, they tend to lose their effectiveness over time.

According to Drs. Irina Savelieva and John Camm of St. George’s University of London:

“The plethora of antiarrhythmic drugs currently available for the treatment of A-Fib is a reflection that none is wholly satisfactory, each having limited efficacy combined with poor safety and tolerability.”

These drugs don’t cure A-Fib but merely keep it at bay. Most Atrial Fibrillation patients should look beyond the typical antiarrhythmic drug therapy.

See our Treatments page to learn more about Medicines or ‘Drug Therapies’ for A-Fib.

Answering Your Questions About A-Fib Drug Therapies

Since the beginning of A-Fib.com, we have answered thousands of patient’s questions—many times the same questions. Perhaps the same questions you may have right now.

For unbiased information and guidance about medicines and drug therapy treatments, see our page of questions and answers. You’ll find explanations, resources and advice for the most frequently asked questions by patients and their families. Go to FAQ A-Fib Treatments: Medicines and Drug Therapies.

Tony Rejects Drug Therapy: Says to Ask Questions, None are Stupid

Tony Hall, Evansville, IN, was 54 years old when he develped Atrial Fibrillation in January 2014. After confirming his diagnosis at the hospital, he wrote:

“I sit in the passenger seat feeling like a pet heading to a kennel. Suddenly things are different. I no longer have that “healthy as a horse” attitude.”

He started drug therapy. Then came a cardioconversion, but that didn’t keep him in normal sinus rhythm for long. He was in and out of A-Fib, and by August was in persistent A-Fib.

Learning His Treatment Options

Tony didn’t passively accept everything he was hearing from doctors and others.

He and his wife, Jill, read as much as they could and critically waded through the information they found. (I’m continually amazed at how much mis-information there is about A-Fib on the internet and in the media.)

5-months post-ablation, Tony and Jill after 10K race.

After doing his research, educating himself about treatment options and learning what his health insurance would cover, he chose to have a catheter ablation at the Mayo Clinic in December 2014.

During his three month blanking period, he had some sporadic fluttering and early on a couple of brief A-Fib episodes.

Off all medication and A-Fib-free, in March 2015 he completed a 10K race beating his time from the previous year by a fraction.

Becoming his Own Best Patient Advocate

Tony and Jill are great examples for all A-Fibbers of how to become your own best patient advocate. He rejected endless trials of various drug therapies. Instead he opted for a catheter ablation just shy of a year after his initial A-Fib diagnosis.

In his A-Fib story, he shares this advice to others considering a catheter ablation:

“Make sure, if you desire to have an ablation, that your reasoning is sound and that you have a good argument as to why drug therapy is not the way you want to go.
Having an ablation as front line treatment for A-Fib is not embraced by every EP, and many are reluctant to ablate until drug therapy has failed.
Be persistent and move on [to another doctor] if you are met with resistance.”

For Tony Hall’s personal experience story, see: Very Active 54-Year Old Became His Own Patient Advocate; Chose Ablation as First Line Treatment.

I Couldn’t Believe the Drugs He Was On; How to Ask Questions About Your A-Fib Prescriptions

03/15/2019 5 pm: Corrected a missing link below to the Free Worksheet, Ask These Questions Before Starting a Prescription Drug.

I received a very distressing email from a reader, Kenny, who was worried about his prescribed medications. He wrote that he just had a cardioversion a week ago and is back in A-Fib (unfortunately that’s not uncommon). Alarm bells went off in my head when I read:

“My doctor just prescribed me amiodarone 200mg, 4x a day…I’m a little concerned about the amiodarone and all the side effects!”

“I’m also on Digoxin…Xarelto and aspirin… .”

“I can’t get my doctor’s office or doctor to call me back! Reluctant to start amiodarone until I can talk to someone!” 

Drugs Therapies Concerns - capsule of heart molecules at A-Fib.com

Drugs Therapies Concerns

Ding, Ding, Ding! I am deeply concerned for him. The doctor prescribing these drugs is in internal medicine, not a cardiac electrophysiologist. While Kenny and I continue to exchange emails, here’s some highlights from my first reply:

Amiodarone is an extremely toxic drug, and this dosage is 4x the normal dose.
You must get a second opinion ASAP! (consult a cardiac electrophysiologist)
Digoxin is also a dangerous drug not normally prescribed for A-Fib patients.
It’s very unusual to prescribe both Xarelto and aspirin.

Time to Change Doctors? And lastly, I wrote him that if your doctor or his office isn’t calling you back, that’s a sign you should look for a new doctor (don’t be afraid to fire your doctor). You need good communication when you’re in A-Fib and trying to find a cure.

I’m glad Kenny reached out to me so we can get him on the right A-Fib treatment plan for him and his treatment goals.

Ask These Questions Before Starting a Prescription Drug

Download the Free Worksheet

Before starting any prescription drug for your Atrial Fibrillation, you should ask what it’s for and why you should take it.

Download our free worksheet, 10 Questions to Ask Before Taking Any Medication’ and use as a guide to ask these questions of your doctor or healthcare provider, and note their responses:

1. Why am I being prescribed this medication?
2. What are the alternatives to taking this medication?
3. What are the side effects of this drug?
4. Are there any precautions or special dietary instructions I should follow?
5. Can it interfere with my other medications?.
6. How long before I know if this drug is working?
7. How will I be monitored on this drug? How often?
8. What happens if this drug doesn’t work?
9. What if my A-Fib symptoms become worse?
10. If I don’t respond to medications, will you consider non-pharmaceutical treatments (such as a catheter ablation)?

Research and Learn About Any Prescription Drug 

You can do your own research about a specific medication and if it’s the right one for you.

An excellent prescription database is the U.S. National Library of Medicine Drug Information Portal. (For an example, see the page on Warfarin [Coumadin].)

Decision Making Time

Download our free worksheet: ’10 Questions to Ask Before Taking Any Medication’. Take a copy to your office visits.

Your research and the answers to these 10 questions should help you decide about taking a new prescription drug. Remember, it’s your heart, your health. Taking medications is a decision you should make in partnership with your doctor.

Note: File your completed worksheets in your A-Fib binder or file folder to use for future reference and follow-up.)

“Do Not Use This Product” Warnings on Decongestants: Which are Safe for A-Fib Patients

by Steve Ryan
First published Dec. 2017. Last updated: March 14, 2019

It’s cough and cold season, and millions of cold sufferers are reaching for an over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant capsule or nasal spray to clear a stuffy nose.

As an A-Fib patient, did you notice these over-the-counter decongestants often contain a warning such as:

“Do not use this product if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, thyroid disease, diabetes, or difficulty in urination due to enlargement of the prostate gland, unless directed by a doctor.”

What does this warning mean for patients with Atrial Fibrillation?

Decongestants, Heart Disease and A-Fib

When you have a stuffed up nose from a cold or allergies, a decongestant can cut down on the fluid in the lining of your nose. That relieves swollen nasal passages and congestion. (In general, an antihistamine doesn’t help with this symptom.)

The Problem: When taking a decongestant, heart rate and blood pressure go up, the heart beats stronger, blood vessels constrict in nasal passages reducing fluid build-up. In general that’s okay for most patients.

But not for patients with high blood pressure, heart disease or, specifically, Atrial Fibrillation. Decongestants cause the blood vessels to shrink and blood pressure to rise. Perfect conditions that can trigger or induce an episode of their A-Fib.

Another concern for A-Fib patients is that some over-the-counter (OTC) medications can interact with the anti-arrhythmic medication they’re taking.

Check your Cold Medicine: The main active ingredient in many decongestants is pseudoephedrine, a stimulant. It is well known for shrinking swollen nasal mucous membranes.

To find out if your cold medicine contains a decongestant, start by reading the label. You can lookup the ingredients of any OTC medication at Drugs.com. Just search by product name or active ingredient.

In addition, you can consult your pharmacist who can check the label of a medicine and let you know if it’s safe for someone with atrial fibrillation and/or high blood pressure.

Drugs.com makes it easy to check the ingredients of any OTC medication, just search by product name or active ingredient.

OTC Decongestants to Avoid: Some OTC decongestants tablets, capsules and nasal sprays to avoid if you have atrial fibrillation include:

• AccuHist DM® (containing Brompheniramine, Dextromethorphan, Guaifenesin, Pseudoephedrine)
• Advil Allergy Sinus® (containing Chlorpheniramine, Ibuprofen, Pseudoephedrine)
• Advil Cold and Sinus® (containing Ibuprofen, Pseudoephedrine)
• Sudafed (pseudoephedrine)
• Afrin and other decongestant nasal sprays and pumps (oxymetazoline)

Phenylephrine: a Safe Substitute? Maybe. A substitute for pseudoephedrine is phenylephrine. In general, phenylephrine is milder than pseudoephedrine but also less effective in treating nasal congestion. As with other decongestants, it causes the constriction of blood vessels and increases blood pressure.

There is anecdotal evidence that products with the substitute phenylephrine might be less of a trigger for A-Fib than products with pseudoephedrine. Products with phenylephrine:

Sudafed PE Congestion tablets
Dimetapp Nasal Decongestant capsules
Mucinex Sinus-Max Pressure and Pain caplets (Sue Greene writes that she has used Guaifenesin (Mucinex) for years which has never put her into A-Fib, 2/15/19. Lompocsue(at)yahoo.com.)

Decongestant-Free Products: These tablets, capsules and nasal sprays are decongestant-free and safe for patients with Atrial Fibrillation (They are marketed for those with High Blood Pressure):

Coricidin HBP line of products (Chlorpheniramine)
DayQuil HBP Cold & Flu (dextromethorphan hydrobromide)
NyQuil HBP Cold & Flu (dextromethorphan hydrobromide)
• non-medicated inhalers such as Vicks VapoInhalers (Levmetamfetamine)

What About Antihistamines?

Antihistamines reduce the effects of histamine in the body which can produce sneezing, runny nose, etc. Though they can lessen your symptoms, some can aggravate a heart condition, or be dangerous when mixed with blood pressure drugs and certain heart medicines.

Antihistamines can be dangerous when mixed with blood pressure drugs and certain heart medicines.

Heart-safe Antihistamines: Compared to decongestants, antihistamines are often better tolerated by people with A-Fib. Some heart-safe antihistamines that can help with a stuffy nose from a cold include:

Claritin tablets (loratadine)
Zyrtec tablets (cetirizine)
Allegra tablets (fexofenadine)
• Chlor-Trimeton (chlorpheniramine)

Non-Drug Alternatives for Cold Relief

If you want to avoid medications altogether, you can try a variety of things to clear your head.

Breathe Right nasal strips may help you breathe better at night. Use saline nasal spray (like Ocean or Basic Care) to help flush your sinuses, relieve nasal congestion and curb inflammation of mucous membranes.

A steamy shower or a hot towel wrapped around the face can also relieve congestion. Drinking plenty of fluids, especially hot beverages (like chicken soup), keeps mucus moist and flowing.

Recommendations for A-Fib Patients

Antihistamines and decongestants can give much-needed relief for a runny or congested nose. But A-Fib patients should pay attention to the warnings for heart patients. Here’s some products and procedures to consider:

Decongestant-free: Look for decongestant-free products (e.g. Coricidin HBP, DayQuil HBP Cold & Flu, NyQuil HBP Cold & Flu and Vicks VapoInhalers).

One possible exception are those decongestant products with the active ingredient phenylephrine (e.g. Sudafed PE, Dimetapp and Mucinex Sinus).

Heart-safe antihistamines: You can try one of the heart-safe antihistamines (e.g. Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra).

Drug-free alternatives: Try drug-free substitutes (e.g. Breath Right nasal strips, saline nasal spray and a steamy shower).

The best advice for you and your A-Fib: Always consult your cardiologist or EP. Ask what’s the best option for your stuffy nose or allergies. And ask about interactions with your other heart medications (especially if you have high blood pressure).

References for this article
• Don’t let decongestants squeeze your heart. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. March, 2014. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/dont-let-decongestants-squeeze-your-heart

• Atrial fibrillation: Frequently asked questions. University of Iowa Health Care. Last reviewed: December 2015. https://uihc.org/health-topics/atrial-fibrillation-frequently-asked-questions

• Wieneke, H. Induction of Atrial Fibrillation by Topical Use of Nasal Decongestants. Mayo Clinic Proceedings , July 2016, Volume 91, Issue 7, Page 977. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.04.011

• Terrie, YC. Decongestants and Hypertension: Making Wise Choices When Selecting OTC Medications. Pharmacy Times, December 20, 2017. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/issue/2017/december2017/decongestants-and-hypertension-making-wise-choices-when-selecting-otc-medications

Medical Marijuana: A-Fib Patients Offer Personal Experiences

Due to the increased use of medical marijuana in California and other states, we should soon be getting more data on marijuana’s effects on Atrial Fibrillation.

Several readers with A-Fib have emailed me to share their experiences and observations with marijuana. There seems to be a lot of interest every time I write about this topic.

How about you? I’d love to get more first-hand feedback from A-Fib users. Please email me.

First-Hand Experiences: A-Fib and Medical Marijuana

Jim, an A-Fib patient, has kindly shared his personal use of marijuana and how it helps him. He has tried various meds, cardioversion, and had a failed ablation. He owns his own business in California and is under a lot of stress.

♥ JIM: “Because of all of this, I was having trouble sleeping and was getting very stressed out. But instead of taking something pharmaceutical, I turned to medical marijuana. It changed my life. I come home at night, have some marijuana edibles, and the stress goes away. I sleep wonderfully at night, waking up fresh and ready for another day.

I told my doctor who understands. He says that marijuana edibles shouldn’t have anything to do with A-Fib, and that I can continue to take them.”

On the other hand, John writes that:

♥ JOHN: “99% of his A-Fib attacks occurred while under the influence of marijuana.”

And others add their experiences:

♥ JONATHAN: “I tried a tiny bit of brownie for the first time since being diagnosed with A-Fib (occasional episodes). It was OK until about two hours later. I went into A-Fib and, a bit later, came the closest I ever have to blacking out. I don’t think it’s for me anymore.”

You can join the discussion, too. If you have used marijuana to help with your A-Fib symptoms, email me and share your experience.

♥ WILLIAM: “The A-Fib ablation has been very successful, except the two times that I went into A-Fib after smoking marijuana. I’m a lifelong recreational marijuana smoker, also smoke to relieve the pain from six surgeries on my right arm. Both times that I’ve gone into A-Fib since my last ablation have been after smoking marijuana. After the latest episode I’ve quite smoking marijuana because of the evidence that it can lead to A-Fib.”

♥ SCOTT: “I am currently 55 years old and have been through 15 cardioversions due to A-Fib. I smoked marijuana pretty much daily and noticed that, when I smoked, my heart rate went up. So, I stopped smoking altogether. Since quitting smoking marijuana 7 years ago, I have not had a single case of going into A-Fib. I’m positive that the two are related.”

Scott added that he also stopped drinking which helped. He used to drink a six pack daily.


PODCAST: Marijuana—Good, Bad or Ugly for Patients with A-Fib?

For my most recent report about A-Fib and Marijuana, listen to my Podcast with Travis Van Slooten, publisher of LivingWithAtrialFibrillation.com. (About 18 min. in length.) Includes transcript.

PODCAST

Marijuana—Good, Bad or Ugly for Patients with A-Fib?

With Steve Ryan and Travis Van Slooten (18 min.)

Go to Podcast

References for this article
Korantzopoulos, P. et al. Atrial Fibrillation and Marijuana Smoking. International Journal of Clinical Practice. 2008;62(2):308-313.

Petronis KR, Anthony JC. An epidemiologic investigation of marijuana- and cocaine-related palpitations. Drug Alcohol Depend 1989; 23: 219-26.

Rettner, R. Marijuana Use May Raise Stroke Risk in Young Adults. LiveScience.com, MyHealthNewsDaily February 08, 2013. Last accessed Nov 5, 2014. URL: http://www.livescience.com/26965-marijuana-smoking-stroke-risk.html

Why am I Angry at Some Doctors Treating Atrial Fibrillation Patients?

I can’t tell you how angry I am at cardiologists who want to leave their patients in Atrial Fibrillation.

It doesn’t matter even if a patient has no apparent symptoms. Just putting a patient on rate control meds and leaving them in A-Fib can have disastrous consequences.

Silent A-Fib Discovered During a Routine Physical

Discovered during routine exam

I corresponded with a fellow who had just found out he was in “silent” Atrial Fibrillation (no symptoms).

I told him he was very lucky (and should buy his doctor a present in gratitude). His doctor discovered his A-Fib during a routine physical exam. If his silent A-Fib had continued untreated, he might easily have been one of the 35% who suffer a debilitating A-Fib-related clot and stroke.

I would normally commend his cardiologist, but his doctor just put him on the rate control drug, diltiazem, and left him in A-Fib.

That is so wrong for so many reasons!

Rate control drugs aren’t really a “treatment” for A-Fib. They leave you in A-Fib.

Rate Control Drugs Don’t Really “Treat” A-Fib

Rate control drugs aren’t really a “treatment” for A-Fib. Though they slow the rate of the ventricles, they leave you in A-Fib.

They may alleviate some A-Fib symptoms, but do not address the primary risks of stroke and death associated with A-Fib.

Effects of Leaving Someone in A-Fib

A-Fib is a progressive disease. Just putting patients on rate control meds (even if they have no apparent symptoms) and leaving them in A-Fib can have disastrous consequences. Atrial Fibrillation can:

Infographic at A-Fib.com A-Fib is a Progressive Disease

• Enlarge and weaken your heart often leading to other heart problems and heart failure.

• Remodel your heart, producing more and more fibrous tissue which is irreversible.

• Dilate and stretch your left atrium to the point where its function is compromised.

• Progress to Chronic (continuous) A-Fib often within a year; Or longer and more frequent A-Fib episodes.

• Increase your risk of dementia and decrease your mental abilities because 15%-30% of your blood isn’t being pumped properly to your brain and other organs.

What Patients Need to Know

For many, many patients, A-Fib is definitely curable. You don’t have to settle for a lifetime of “controlling” your Atrial Fibrillation.

Normal Sinus Rhythm: The goal of today’s AHA/ACC/HRS A-Fib Treatment Guidelines is to get Atrial Fibrillation patients back into normal sinus rhythm (NSR) and stay in sinus rhythm.

Unless too feeble, there’s no good reason to just leave someone in A-Fib (see note below).

Don’t let your doctor leave you in A-Fib. Educate yourself. Learn your treatment options.

Always Aim High! No matter how long you’ve had A-Fib, you should aim for a complete and permanent cure. Shoot for the moon, as they say, and you’ll find the best outcome for you and your type of A-Fib.

Note for this article
A rebuttal: A cardiologist may cite the 2002 AFFIRM study to justify keeping patients on rate control drugs (and anticoagulants), while leaving them in A-Fib. But this study has been contradicted by numerous other studies since 2002.
References for this article
• AHA/ACC/HRS. 2014 Guideline for the Management of Patients With Atrial Fibrillation: Executive Summary: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and the Heart Rhythm Society. Circulation. 2014; 130: e199-e267 DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000041.

• AHA/ACC/HRS 2014 Guideline for the Management of Patients With Atrial Fibrillation. Circulation. published online March 28, 2014, 4.2.1. Antiplatelet Agents, p 29.doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000041 Last accessed Nov 23, 2014.URL: From http://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleid=1854230

5-Year CABANA Trial: Compares Catheter Ablation with Antiarrhythmic Drug Therapy

The catheter ablation procedure for Atrial Fibrillation has been around for 20+ years.

In a randomized controlled trial, the 5-year CABANA study is the largest to compare the A-Fib treatments of catheter ablation (PVI) and antiarrhythmic drug therapy (AAD).

CABANA stands for Catheter Ablation versus Antiarrhythmic Drug Therapy.

CABANA Trial Design

Worldwide, 2,204 patients with new onset or undertreated Atrial Fibrillation were randomized between two treatments: catheter ablation (PVI) or antiarrhythmic drug (AAD) therapy. Patient participants were followed for nearly 5 years.

Patients details: Many patients had concurrent illnesses with Atrial Fibrillation: cardiomyopathy (9%), chronic heart failure (15%), prior cerebrovascular accidents or TIAs (mini-strokes) (10%).

Over half of participants (57%) had persistent or long-standing persistent A-Fib [i.e. harder types of A-Fib to cure].

Drug details: Antiarrhythmic drug (AAD) therapy was mostly rhythm control (87.2%), some received rate control drug therapy.

Anticoagulation drug therapy was used in both groups.

CABANA Trial Results

Crossover a Major Problem: Many in the AAD therapy arm decided to have a catheter ablation instead (27.5%). And some in the ablation arm decided not to have an ablation (9.2%). [One can not blame patients or their doctors for making these life-impacting choices.] 

The CABANA results showed catheter ablation was significantly better than drug therapy for the primary endpoint (a composite of all-cause mortality, disabling stroke, serious bleeding or cardiac arrest). [See Additional Research Findings below.] Mortality and death rate were also significantly better for catheter ablation.

CABANA Findings: Ablation vs AAD Therapy

▪ Catheter Ablation significantly reduced the recurrence of A-Fib versus AAD therapy.

▪ Catheter Ablation improved ‘quality of life’ (QofL) more than AAD therapy, though both groups showed substantial improvement.

▪ Catheter Ablation patients had incremental, clinically meaningful and significant improvements in A-Fib-related symptoms. This benefit was sustained over 5 years of follow-up.

▪ Catheter Ablation was found to be a safe and effective therapy for A-Fib and had low adverse event rates.

Take-Aways for A-Fib Patients

Ablation Works Better than Antiarrhythmic Drugs: Rather than a life on antiarrhythmic drug therapy, the CABANA trial and other studies show that a catheter ablation is the better choice over antiarrhythmic drug therapy.

For related studies, see CASTLE AF: Live Longer-Have a Catheter Ablation and AATAC AF: Catheter Ablation Compared to Amiodarone Drug Therapy.

In an editorial in the Journal of Innovations in Cardiac Rhythm Management, Dr. Moussa Mansour, Massachusetts General Hospital, wrote about the CABANA trial:

“It confirmed our belief that catheter ablation is a superior treatment to the use of pharmacological agents, and corroborates the findings of many other radomized clinical trials.” 

Lower Recurrence: What’s also important for patients is the lower risk of recurrence of A-Fib versus AAD therapy.

Reduced Ablation Safety Concerns: Ablation significantly improved overall mortality and major heart problems.

Immeasurable Improvement in Quality of Life! Perhaps even more important for patients on a daily basis, catheter ablation significantly improved quality of life.

Don’t Settle for a Lifetime on Drugs

Over the years, catheter ablation for A-Fib has become an increasingly low risk procedure with reduced safety concerns. (Ablation isn’t surgery. There’s no cutting involved. Complication risk is similar to tubal ligation or vasectomy.)

An ablation can reduce or entirely rid you of your A-Fib symptoms, make you feel better, and let you live a healthier and longer life (for people who are older, too). A catheter ablation significantly improves your quality of life (even if you need a second “re-do ablation” down the road).

For many, many patients, A-Fib is definitely curable. Getting back into normal sinus rhythm and staying in sinus rhythm is a life-changing experience, as anyone who’s free from the burden of A-Fib can tell you.

See also:  Does a Successful Catheter Ablation Have Side Benefits? How About a Failed Ablation?

Additional Study Findings
Primary endpoints: Results of the primary endpoints were not significant. This is probably due to the crossovers and the lower than expected adverse event rates (5.2% for ablation versus 6.1% for AAD therapy).

Deeper Analysis of Data: The researchers performed sensitivity analyses on the primary results using “treatment received” and “per protocol” rather than “intent to treat”.

Research Terms: Primary endpoint—specific event the study is designed to assess. Intent to treat—all assigned to the AAD group compared to the assigned ablation group (even though 1/4 crossed over to the ablation group). Treatment received—compared all who received an ablation to all who received AAD therapy.
References for this article
• Packer, Douglas. CABANA trial provides important new data on clinical and quality of life effects of ablation for atrial fibrillation. Cardiac Rhythm News: October 18, 2018, Issue 42. P. 1.

• Mansour, Moussa. Letter from the Editor in Chief. The Journal of Innovations in Cardiac Rhythm Management, June 2018. DOI: 10.19102/icrm.2018.090609.

Blood Thinner Myths Debunked by Healthcare Monitor Guide to AFIB

Every Atrial Fibrillation patient has to deal with the increased risk of clots and stroke and that often includes taking a blood thinner or anticoagulant.

At my doctor’s office I came across one of those “free take home copy” publications about Atrial Fibrillation. Healthcare Monitor Guide to Living with AFib 2018 had an interesting sidebar with a few myths and truths about blood thinners. I’d like to share a few misconceptions they list:

Guide to Living with AFib 2018

• “I’m afraid of shaving because I hear it’ll take forever to stop bleeding.”
• “Blood thinners will make me feel tired.”
• “It seems I bruise much more easily now-and that can’t be good.”

Do any of these ring a bell with you? Are you concerned with the same issues? Healthcare Monitor debunks these as myths and explains way.

Blood Thinner Myths Debunked

“I’m afraid of shaving because I heart it’ll take forever to stop bleeding…If bleeding while shaving is a problem, consider using an electric shaver. And remember: Even if you seem to bleed more easily now, suffering a stroke could cost you your life.

Blood thinners will make me feel tired. There’s no evidence that blood thinners cause or worsen fatigue. In fact, fatigue has not been identified as a problem in numerous studies done in thousands of patients. Of course, several things can effect your energy levels, including other medications you’re taking and lack of sleep. If you’re feeling more exhausted than usual, bring it up with your doctor.

It seems I bruise much more easily now-and that can’t be good. It’s true that bruising may be somewhat increased while you’re on a blood thinner. Although this can be a nuisance, it is important to remember that you are taking this medication to lower the risk of stroke. So the trade-off—accepting a slight increase in bruising—is worth the protection from dangerous clots.”

An Alternative to Blood Thinners

Catheter positioning the Watchman occlusion device at the mouth of the Left Atrial Appendage

Catheter placing Watchman in LAA

But blood thinners are not like taking vitamins. They have their own set of risks and side effects. However, preventing a stroke is for most people a welcome trade-off for any bad effects of anticoagulants.

If you can’t or don’t want to take blood thinners, an option is to have a device installed to close off the Left Atrial Appendage. The LAA is a small pocket of heart tissue located above the left atrium where 90%-95% of A-fib strokes originate.

To learn more see my articles: Watchman: the Alternative to Blood Thinners or LAA Occlusion for A-Fib Patients: The Lariat II Versus the Watchman Device.

Or watch the 3:28 min. video: The Watchman Device: Closure of the Left Atrial Appendage.

Resource for this article
Blood thinner myths debunked. Healthcare Monitor Guide to Living with AFib. 2018. print publication, p 21. healthmonitor.com.

A-Fib Patients (and Others): Should You Be Prescribed Fewer Drugs?

Did you know you can outgrow your medication? Perhaps your lifestyle has changed with more physical activity, better nutrition or weight loss and subsequently you may no longer need medications for diabetes, cholesterol or high blood pressure.

But you keep taking them, because no one told you to stop.

Simple errors can occur, too. Dr. Michael A. Steinman, a geriatrician at the University of California, San Francisco, recalled asking a patient to bring in every pill he took for a so-called ‘brown bag review’. He learned that the man had accumulated four or five bottles of the same drug without realizing it, and was ingesting several times the recommended dose.

“We spend an awful lot of money and effort trying to figure out when to start medications and shockingly little on when to stop.”

Dr. Caleb Alexander, Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness

De-Prescribing: A Brown Bag Review

Always keep an accurate and updated list of medications you are taking. (See our free download form below.)

Periodically ask your physicians or pharmacist for a ‘brown bag review’. Discuss whether to continue or change any of your regimens. Ask about:

▪ any medicines you no longer need?
▪ any medications you can do without?
▪ if a lower dose would work for any of your medicines?
▪ if any of your medications might interact with another?
▪ any non-pharmacologic alternatives?

If your doctor agrees to ‘de-subscribe’ a medication, realize it isn’t as simple as saying “stop” taking it. It’s a process requiring caution and skill by your doctor. (Afterwards, remember to update your list of medications.)

Free Download: Keep an Inventory List of Your Medications

Medications List from Alere at A-Fib.comKeep your doctor and other healthcare providers up-to-date on all the medications you are taking by using this Medications List from Alere. Download (and remember to save the PDF to your hard drive).

Besides prescriptions, the form has sections to list over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, herbs and mineral supplements, too (as they can interact).

Print several copies of the blank form and keep handy in your A-Fib file or binder. When completed, give a copy of your inventory to each of your healthcare providers.

Also see my article: Are Your Herbal Supplements Interacting With Your Medicines?

Resources for this article
• Kantor ED, et al. Trends in Prescription Drug Use Among Adults in the United States From 1999-2012. JAMA. 2015;314(17):1818–1830. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.13766

• Mishori, R. Why doctors should be prescribing less drugs. The Independent. 30 January 2017. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/healthy-living/prescribing-drugs-is-good-so-is-deprescribing-a7552971.html

• Qato DM, et al. Changes in Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medication and Dietary Supplement Use Among Older Adults in the United States, 2005 vs 2011. JAMA Intern Med. 2016 Apr;176(4):473-82. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.8581.

 

‘A Patient Cured is a Customer Lost’ & Other Facts About Big Pharma

Did you know drug companies spend twice as much on marketing and advertising as on researching and developing new drugs? (I was shocked.)

Of special interest to me is the ‘Direct to Consumer’ drug advertising which has significantly increased drug sales in the U.S.

‘Direct to Consumer’ drug advertising is so misleading that it is banned in all countries except two: the U.S. and New Zealand. (No wonder that 70% of drug companies’ profit comes from the U.S.)

Misleading Drug Ads

To be specific, I hate those misleading TV commercials that target A-Fib patients. What these ads for anticoagulants don’t tell you is:

• You are on their meds for life! (they want lifelong customers!)
• These meds do nothing to treat your A-Fib (only your risk of stroke)
• A-Fib can be cured (you don’t have to be on meds for the rest of your life)

These ads for anticoagulant medications imply that if you just take their pill once a day, you’ve taken care of your A-Fib. Wrong! Don’t fall for the hype.

Bad Pharma—How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors & Harm Patients

The author of Bad Pharma does an excellent job of shining a light on the truths that the drug industry wants to stay hidden.

Bad Pharma by Ben GoldacreThose truths include how they mislead doctors and the medical industry through sales techniques, and manipulate consumers into becoming life-long drug customers. (For doctors, that industry influence begins in medical school and continues throughout their practice.)

We also learn truths about the internal workings of the medical academia, the U.S. FDA, and medical journals publishing.

The arguments in the book are supported by research and data made available to the reader. The author, Ben Goldacre, is a doctor and science journalist, and advocates for sticking to the scientific method, full disclosure and advocating for the interest of the patients. Read a critical review of Bad Pharma in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

My Best Advice: ‘Educate Yourself’

One of our tenets at A-Fib.com, is ‘Educate Yourself’! if you want to be a more savvy consumer of health care services (I highly recommend Bad Pharma. I also recommend Ben Goldacre’s other book, Bad Science).

Bonus Idea: If you pair this book withKnow Your Chances: Understanding Health Statistics by Steven Woloshin, you’ll have a complete course on how the drug industry skillfully markets their products. Read my review.

Read the book for FREE: The ebook version is online at U.S. National Library of Medicine PubMedHealth, and you can download the .PDF version (remember to save to your hard drive).

See my post: How Big Pharma Issues Misleading News and Why it Matters.

Features the report by the online watchdog group HealthNewsReview.org.

 

Don’t Settle for a Lifetime on Medications—

Seek your A-Fib Cure

Drugs Don’t Cure Atrial Fibrillation But Merely Keep it at Bay

Advice from Patients Now Free from the Burden of Atrial Fibrillation

Daniel Doane, Sonora, California, USA, shares his mistake:

Daniel D.

“Don’t think that the medication is a long term solution. Don’t put up with nasty side effects.
That was the mistake I made. I thought I could tough out the medication as long as I stayed out of A-Fib.
Terry Dewitt at A-Fib.com

Terry D.

Terry DeWitt, Massachusetts, USA, advises act sooner than later:

“I knew I could continue on medication for several years, but I was concerned about the remodeling of my heart. …I would need an ablation…and sooner seemed better when my heart was still strong.”  

 

Max Jussila, Shanghai, China, says meds are for the short term:

Max J.

“Do not listen to your doctors if they suggests medication as a long-term solution!
The doctors who see medication as a solution commit serious negligence and are ignorant of the terrible nature and consequences of Atrial Fibrillation.”

Don’t Just Manage Your A-Fib with Meds. Seek your Cure.

According to Drs. Irina Savelieva and John Camm of St. George’s University of London, London, UK:

“The plethora of antiarrhythmic drugs currently available for the treatment of A-Fib is a reflection that none is wholly satisfactory, each having limited efficacy combined with poor safety and tolerability.”

In general, don’t expect miracles from current medications. Antiarrhythmic drugs are only effective for about 40% of patients; many can’t tolerate the bad side effects. When they do work, the drugs become less effective or stop working over time.

In his, personal A-Fib story, Dr. Sam T. MD, from Tennessee, USA, shares:

“At this time when all medicines and cardiac procedures have their risks and limitations, finding a way to get to NSR [Normal Sinus Rhythm] and staying in NSR is most important.”

The goal should be to end your A-Fib episodes not manage them. Learn more at: Drug Therapies. Always Aim for a Cure!

Drugs Have a Role, but Other Treatment Options Target a Cure.

Resources for this article
CAMM, J, MD. Medical Management of Atrial Fibrillation: State of the Art First published: 03 August 2006 https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-8167.2006.00581.x

Savelieva I, Camm J. Update on atrial fibrillation: part II. Clin Cardiol. 2008 Mar;31(3):102-8. doi: 10.1002/clc.20136. PubMed PMID: 18383050. URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=PMID%3A%2018383050


From The Top 10 List of A-Fib Patients’ Best Advice’ , a consensus of valuable advice from fellow Atrial Fibrillation patients; Chapter 12, Beat Your A-Fib: The Essential Guide to Finding Your Cure by Steve S. Ryan, PhD.

Go to Top 10 List of A-Fib Patients’ Best Advice
Please, share the advice ♥ 

FAQ Update: For stroke prevention—warfarin (Coumadin), an NOAC or aspirin?

We’ve updated our answer to the Frequently-Asked-Question (FAQ):

“For A-Fib patients, which is the better to A-Fib-related stroke—warfarin (Coumadin), an NOAC or aspirin?”

For decades, people more at risk for A-Fib-related stroke have been on warfarin (Coumadin). In the last few years, many of these patients have switched to the newer NOACs. A-Fib patients with low or no risk factors for stroke are often put on aspirin, or nothing at all.

Differences with the Same Goal

Aspirin is an antiplatelet drug that decreases the stickiness of circulating platelets (small blood cells that start the normal clotting process), so that they adhere to each other less and are less likely to form blood clots. (Cost: dirt cheap.)

Warfarin (brand name Coumadin) is an anticoagulant that works by slowing the production of blood clotting proteins made in the liver. Warfarin is highly effective, reducing the annual risk of stroke by approximately two thirds, but does require periodic lab tests to maintain the proper therapeutic level. (Cost: dirt cheap + lab tests.)

NOACs stands for Novel Oral AntiCoagulants. NOACs are alternatives for vitamin K antagonists (e.g., Warfarin). NOACs don’t require periodic blood testing as with warfarin. The clinical trials indicate NOACs work as well as warfarin. (Cost: Extremely expensive.)

 —Continue reading—for the rest of our answer along with a few takeawys.

FAQs A-Fib Drug Therapy: Natural Blood Thinners

 FAQs A-Fib Drug Therapy: Natural Blood Thinners

Drug Therapies for Atrial Fibrillation, A-Fib, Afib

“Are natural blood thinners for blood clot treatment as good as prescription blood thinners like warfarin?”

There are a number of foods and supplements that are known to thin the blood. These include foods with high amounts of aspirin-like substances called salicylates, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E supplements, and foods with natural antibiotic properties.

Healthy adults can greatly reduce the risk of blood clots and cardiovascular disease by modifying their lifestyle and adding nutritional supplements proven to support cardiovascular health. But this site is not recommending or advising that people switch from prescription anticoagulants to natural blood thinners.

No Studies that ‘Natural’ is as Effective as Warfarin

As of yet, there aren’t any double blind studies which demonstrate any natural alternative (or combination) is as effective against stroke as warfarin (Coumadin) or the new NOACs.

Certain foods and supplements may be “natural” and thin the blood, but there’s little research on their effectiveness to prevent clots in those at high-risk for stroke, such as A-Fib patients.

What’s more, there isn’t a way to track their effectiveness in the same way doctors can monitor the action of warfarin through routine blood tests.

If considering a switch to natural blood thinners, do not stop taking your anticoagulation medication. Talk to your doctor first.

Patients with Lone Atrial Fibrillation

Natural blood thinners may be considered for patients with “lone” Atrial Fibrillation, that is, patients who have had A-Fib occur only once or twice, are young, and have an otherwise healthy heart (normal size, no enlarged chambers or leaky valves, not otherwise prone to blood clots or other heart risk factors like diabetes, etc.). These low-risk patients may be candidates for natural alternatives to warfarin (Coumadin). (Historically, these patients may have been put on aspirin.)

If considering a switch to natural blood thinners, do not stop taking your anticoagulation medication. Talk to your doctor first. (But realize that your doctor isn’t likely to tell you to stop taking your warfarin or NOAC prescription.)

Seek Holistic-Minded Practitioners

Instead, you may want to seek out doctors who are holistically-minded and have knowledge of natural medicines; for example, a doctor who practices complementary or integrative medicine or a naturopathic physician. They can partner with you to pursue natural alternatives to prescription medicines. For a listing of such doctors in your area, go to http://www.ACAM.org.

For example, on his website, the Integrative Cardiologist and anti-aging specialist Dr. Stephen Sinatra discusses combating blood clots with this regimen of natural blood thinners:

•  Fish oil (2–3 grams daily)
•  Garlic (1–2 grams daily in capsule form)
•  Nattokinase (100 mg daily)
•  Vitamin E as mixed tocopherols (200–300 IU daily)
•  Bromelain, an enzyme derived from pineapple (600 mg daily)

For additional advice on natural ways to prevent blood clots, visit www.drsinatra.com.

Talk to Your Doctor: Supplements Can Interfere with Coagulation

Always talk to your doctor before adding any supplements to your treatment plan. Some ‘natural’ supplements may interact with your prescription meds (when taken alone or in combination) or interfere with coagulation and increase your bleeding risk.

References for this article
Sinatra, S. The Most Common Blood Thinners. DrSinatra.com website. Last accessed Nov 28, 2014. URL: http://www.drsinatra.com/the-most-common-blood-thinners

Stanger MJ, et al. Anticoagulant activity of select dietary supplements. Nutr Rev. 2012 Feb;70(2):107-17. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00444.x. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22300597

Return to FAQ Drug Therapies
Last updated: Monday, June 18, 2018

FAQ: “Which is the better to prevent A-Fib-related stroke—warfarin (Coumadin), a NOAC or aspirin?

Drug Therapies for Atrial Fibrillation, A-Fib, Afib

FAQs A-Fib Drug Therapy: Stroke Prevention

“For A-Fib patients, which is the better to prevent A-Fib-related stroke—warfarin (Coumadin), a NOAC or aspirin?”

Updated: June 2018. For decades, patients more at risk for A-Fib-related stroke have been on warfarin (Coumadin). In the last few years, many of these patients have switched to the newer NOACs. A-Fib patients with low or no risk factors for stroke are often put on aspirin, or nothing at all.

Differences with the Same Goal

Aspirin is an antiplatelet drug that decreases the stickiness of circulating platelets (small blood cells that start the normal clotting process), so that they adhere to each other less and are less likely to form blood clots. (Cost: dirt cheap.)

Warfarin (brand name Coumadin) is an anticoagulant that works by slowing the production of blood clotting proteins made in the liver. Warfarin is highly effective, reducing the annual risk of stroke by approximately two thirds, but does require periodic lab tests to maintain the proper therapeutic level. (Cost: dirt cheap + lab tests.)

NOACs stands for Novel Oral AntiCoagulants. NOACs are alternatives for vitamin K antagonists (e.g., Warfarin). NOACs don’t require periodic blood testing as with warfarin. The clinical trials indicate NOACs work as well as warfarin. (Cost: Very expensive.)

Takeaways

The FDA approved the NOACs without any recognized method of determining their clot preventing effectiveness (as with warfarin, i.e. INR).

Warfarin has been successfully used for stroke prevention in A-Fib patients at high or intermediate risk for stroke. It’s readily available and inexpensive.

Aspirin is no longer recommended as first-line therapy for Atrial Fibrillation patients according to the 2014 AHA/ACC/HRS Treatment Guidelines for Atrial Fibrillation. And has been downgraded to a class 2B drug.

Microbleeds: We obviously don’t have any data on the long-term effects of taking NOACs for years. Some people on long-term warfarin have been known to develop micro bleeds and dementia. Will this happen with the NOACs? We simply don’t know. But intuitively one would expect the same thing to happen, though probably not to the extent of warfarin.

Weighing the various risk/benefit ratios is a decision for you and your doctor. And should be re-evaluated as you grow older.

Return to FAQ Drug Therapies
Last updated: Monday, June 18, 2018

FAQ: Are Anticoagulants and Blood Thinners the Same Thing? How do they Work?

Drug Therapies for Atrial Fibrillation, A-Fib, AfibFAQs A-Fib Drug Therapy: Warfarin 

“Are Anticoagulants and blood thinners the same thing? How do they thin the blood?” 

Since A-Fib increases your risk of clots and stroke, blood thinners are prescribed to prevent or break up blood clots in your heart and blood vessels and thereby reduce your chance of an A-Fib-related stroke.

Although referred to as “blood thinners”, they don’t actually affect the “thickness” or viscosity of your blood.

Anticoagulant Warfarin chemical diagram

Anticoagulant Warfarin

There are two main types: anticoagulants and antiplatelet agents.  They work differently to accomplish the same end effect.

Anticoagulants work chemically to lengthen the time it takes to form a blood clot.

Common anticoagulants include warfarin (Coumadin), Heparin and the NOACs such as apixaban (Eliquis).

Antiplatelet Aspirin

Antiplatelets prevent blood cells (platelets) from clumping together to form a clot.

Common antiplatelet medications include aspirin, ticlopidine (Ticlid) and clopidogrel (Plavix) .

Final answer: An anticoagulant doesn’t really thin the blood or make it less viscous, but it does help prevent a stroke like blood thinners do.

Note: To read about ‘clot buster’ drugs or treatments that could save you from a debilitating stroke, see my article: Your Nearest ‘Certified Stroke Center’ Could Save Your Life.

Return to FAQ Drug Therapies
Last updated: Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Good News for A-Fib Patients!―FDA Approves Reversal Agent for the NOACs Xarelto and Eliquis

Background: One of the problems for Atrial Fibrillation patients taking anticoagulants is the risk of life threatening or uncontrolled bleeding, particularly if one is injured. Since the introduction of the NOAC anticoagulants, there’s been an increase of hospital admissions and deaths related to bleeding, one of the major complications of anticoagulation.
In the U.S. alone in 2016, there were about 117,000 hospital admissions attributed to factor Xa inhibitor-related bleeding and nearly 2,000 bleeding-related deaths per month. An estimated 4 million people are taking factor Xa inhibitors.

Anticoagulant Reversal Agents

Up to now, only the anticoagulants Pradaxa (dabigatran) and Coumadin (warfarin) had a reversal agent or antidote.

As an example, if you were taking Pradaxa and were injured in an auto accident, doctors in the ER could administer ‘Praxbind’ (idarucizumab), the Pradaxa reversal agent, to stop any uncontrolled bleeding and (probably) save your life.

Many patients with Atrial Fibrillation were put on Pradaxa rather than Xarelto and Eliquis because Pradaxa has had a reversal agent since 2015.

Andexxa: Antidote for Xarelto and Eliquis

Now both Xarelto (rivaroxaban) and Eliquis (apixaban) have the FDA-approved reversal agent Andexxa (Portola Pharmaceuticals) as of May 7, 2018. It probably won’t be available till early June.

Andexxa rapidly and significantly reverses ‘anti-factor Xa’ activity which is the anticoagulant mechanism of both Xarelto and Eliquis.

Should you Switch From Pradaxa?

If you are taking Pradaxa, you may want to discuss with your doctor whether you should switch to another NOAC. (Note: Eliquis tested the best and is the safest of the new anticoagulants. See my article: Pradaxa and the Other New Anticoagulants.)

Are you tolerating Pradaxa well ? Nearly two out of five people (35%) couldn’t― that’s a high rate of adverse reactions. A large number of patients on the 150mg dose of Pradaxa had an increased incidence of gastrointestinal adverse reactions (35%/yr) compared to warfarin (24%/yr). For more see my article: The New Anticoagulants.

Pradaxa’s own fact sheet states common side effects of Pradaxa include:

• Indigestion, Upset Stomach, or Burning
• Stomach Pain

Note: These statements don’t capture the actual human toll—burning throat, roiling intestines, diarrhea, burning anus, lasting intestinal damage, etc. that Pradaxa can produce in some people.

Even if you seem to tolerate Pradaxa well, it may cause permanent GI damage over time.

Anticoagulants are Still Considered High Risk Drugs

FAQs A-Fib afibEven though Xarelto and Eliquis join Pradaxa with an antidote reversal agent, they are all still considered high-risk drugs.

Taking an anticoagulant is not like taking a multi-vitamin.

Anticoagulants work by causing or increasing bleeding. Though they are certainly better than having an A-Fib stroke, they carry their own risks. Read more: Bleeding Risk of Anticoagulants.

Resource for this article
Wending, P. FDA Approves First Factor Xa Inhibitor Antidote, Andexxa. Medscape Medical Nrews, May 4, 2018. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/896182

PODCAST: Marijuana—Good, Bad or Ugly for Patients with Atrial Fibrillation?

Click to open in new window

Note: If you prefer to read instead of listening to the audio, click below on the transcript graphic bar to roll down the printed version.

Podcast Introduction 

Our friend, Travis Van Slooten is publisher of LivingWithAtrialFibrillation.com. With marijuana legal in a growing number of U.S. states, he invited Steve to join him on his podcast and share the latest about marijuana use by A-Fib patients. (About 18 min. in length.)

Here are the highlights of this podcast:

♥ Clinical data on marijuana and atrial fibrillation is limited and is often anecdotal at this point.
A-Fib patients’ experience runs the gamut, it helps some, for others it puts them into A-Fib.
General research: smoking marijuana might lead to the development of A-Fib; may affect the cardiovascular system; few confirming studies.
♥ For A-Fib, the best form is probably CBD in edible form.
♥ An unpublished study of 6 million heart failure patients: Non-dependent marijuana users were 18% less likely to develop A-Fib; Dependent marijuana users were 31% less likely to experience A-Fib.

Resources mentioned in this episode

States Where Marijuana is Legal
FAQs Coping with A-Fib: Marijuana


Travis Van Slooten was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation on Father’s Day in 2006. He would battle a-fib for nine years before having a successful catheter ablation in March 2015. He’s been a-fib-free since with no drugs! His blog covers his own journey and provides information, inspiration, and support for others with A-Fib. Visit his site.

Transcript: Marijuana and Atrial Fibrillation

Marijuana and Atrial Fibrillation

Into: The host of this podcast is not a medical doctor. The information provided is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you have regarding a medical condition. Now on to the show. Welcome to the Afib podcast, where we provide information, inspiration, and support for afibbers. And now your host, Travis Van Slooten.

Travis Van Slooten: I have a special guest for this episode of the afib podcast. His name is Dr. Steve Ryan. Steve is a former afib patient who was cured of his afib back in April 1998 via catheter ablation. He’s a publisher of one of the most popular afib websites, a-fib.com and he’s the author of the best-selling book Beat Your A-Fib: The Essential Guide to Finding Your Cure.

In this episode Steve and I discussed the topic of marijuana use and atrial fibrillation. We discuss recreational pot smoking versus medical marijuana and how many marijuana may or may not be beneficial for people with afib. So without further ado, let’s roll the tape.

All right, Steve, so I want to talk to you about something that it was a very interesting topic that I honestly had not thought about before. I got an email from one of my readers who wanted to know if it was safe to smoke marijuana while they had afib. First I thought this has got to be some kind of a joke because I honestly had never thought about this before, but it makes sense, you know, recreational marijuana is definitely becoming a morbid thing, it’s currently legal in nine states, and medical marijuana use is legal in 29 States.

Recent poll shows that 64% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana. So this is going to be become – if it hasn’t already – become a more kind of important topic. And then ironically, a week later I got another email from someone that had the same question, so I’m like, “Wow, this is really kind of a big deal.”

So I found an article on your site, Steve, that you just recently wrote about this very topic, marijuana use and afib. And in that article you had discussed a little bit about the differences of recreational marijuana and the prescription form of marijuana which is called marinol, and you kind of discussed that there was some key differences between these two. So what are the differences between the two? .

Steve Ryan: Travis, I apologize that we do not have a lot of clinical data on this subject simply because it’s so new and the answers I give aren’t going to be definitive, but we’re doing the best we can with the information that we have. The marinol is the prescription form of cannabis, and the makers of it have a blanket disclaimer saying “Don’t use this with any kind of heart problem…” you know, it’s kind of legal thing. They haven’t done any clinical studies on this subject to say that but they’re just protecting themselves. There have been some research saying that smoking marijuana might lead to the development of afib and it may affect the cardiovascular system, but this is general data without a whole lot of really hard studies indicating that.

Now, what I’ve done on our website is – since I don’t know enough about it to really give a definitive answer –  I have asked people to tell me their experiences and they vary all across the board. Some say that this is the best thing I’ve ever taken, some people say as soon as I start smoking marijuana I get afib. Now, the reason for that might be the different in the pot they’re smoking or the edibles they’re taking. THC is a component found in the marijuana plant stavia. That’s what makes you feel high.There is a CBD is a component found in the marijuana plant indica. That works better to reduce pain and anxiety and induce sleep. Now the problem is the manufacturers of pot – every state has their own little companies, and some produce CBD and a tincture and an oil, in edibles; but some just mix it all together and it’s really hard depending on the state to find something that is just CBD that you can use to get rid of anxiety and get to sleep, that kind of thing.

Now what is the best product for afib patients? Probably CBD in edible form. Smoking marijuana unfortunately produces a lot of problem just like smoking does because there are a lot of bad things in the cigarette smoke as there is in the marijuana smoke. So people tend to want to use marijuana for medical purposes, they’re probably better off using an edible form with more CBD and THC. Does that make any sense?

Travis Van Slooten: Yeah, absolutely. I mean looking at again that article you wrote and I’ll link to it here to in the show notes so people can reference it. If they have experience smoking marijuana or taking it medically, they can surely reach out to you and share their experience with it. But as I look at your article you do have some anecdotal stories there, and it doesn’t seem that the few that are there that I’ve had that experiences with it were people smoking it. And one of the gentleman that wrote, a guy named Jim, said that it was like a life savior for him, but again, he was taking the medical prescription form of it, so that seems to back up kind of what we’re talking here.

Steve Ryan: Yeah. He has a great statement. He’s the guy who is very under a lot of stress, he has his own business. He comes home at night and his brain was throbbing on a mile a minute and he couldn’t get to sleep. So he use marijuana edibles and the stress goes right away and he seems to sleep very well at night. Just to be honest with you, I’m also some kind of like him. I’m very wound, very tight.

Travis Van Slooten: You’re a Type A?

Steve Ryan: I tend to think of all of the things about afib. I’m thinking about, you know… And to tell you the truth, I take edible marijuana and it gets me really relaxed and I go right to sleep.

Travis Van Slooten: Let’s talk about— for people that aren’t familiar with medical marijuana, I am one of those, by the way, I know nothing about this stuff which is why I find it so fascinating, but when we talk edibles, like, what is it? Is it literally like a brownie, a piece of cake? Is it like a gum? I mean what is it? When you say edible, what is it?

Steve Ryan: There are a lot of different products, and unfortunately every state has their own different companies. We don’t have companies that are nation-wide to put out a standard product, but a lot of them are like a brownie that comes in a package like a cookie. It comes in like 100 mg and you cut it into 10 mg slices. To me that’s a pain, but a lot of people use that. Another way is they have product like this one product is blueberry based. They make the marijuana in with blueberries and you just take one, and one is 5 mg and I usually take two at night. Other forms, let see, brownies.

Travis Van Slooten: Now you mentioned and oil-based, a tincture base…

Steve Ryan: What?

Travis Van Slooten: You mentioned a tincture based. That isn’t edible but that’s a different form.

Steve Ryan: Yeah, the way they do with that is they develop a tincture with CBD in an oil, and you put it on your body and let it absorb into your body, and that’s another… I’ve never tried that. I have no idea how well that works or how good it is.

Travis Van Slooten: And that tincture that isn’t something you… You don’t put it in your mouth; you put it on your skin.

Steve Ryan: Yeah, you put it on your skin. But again, I am not an expert in this field and we’re just doing the best we can with little knowledge that we have, and I beg all the listeners to be aware that this is not something that is definitive and written in stone and this is the way to go. Everything I say may completely change when we get more information on medical marijuana.

Travis Van Slooten: Yeah, absolutely. Like you said, I think it’s just starting to explode right now. Do you know, are there any studies underway right now? Do you know of any?

Steve Ryan: Well, there was a really interesting study that just came out where they studied patients with heart failure. And what they found was that– first of all, patients with heart failure are really in deep doo-doo, we’re talking like an ejection fraction of like low or below 35% normally is 50 to 75. These patients, if they have really serious heart failure it’s like they’re suffocating to death. It’s a terrible way to go if you’re ill and you have congestive heart failure, you just feel terrible from what I understand. I’ve never had it. So what they did was they followed 6 million in US hospitals with heart failure. About 1200 used and depended on marijuana. About 2300 used marijuana, but were not depended on it. So the non-dependent marijuana users were 18% less likely to develop afib. And the dependent users were 31% less likely to experience afib.

Now what that means is that marijuana prevented these patients who had heart failure from developing afib. Now, why is that important? Basically a combination of heart failure and afib is a killer. One is bad, two together like that is much worse. These people are much more apt to die, and marijuana basically prevented these people from developing afib even though they had heart failure. This is really big news because sure, now we’re applying it to heart failure, but what about normal people, would marijuana prevent them from developing afib? We don’t know. But the study indicate that. In study would say definitely that anyone who has heart failure should consider marijuana use in some form because it does seem to prevent them from going into a atrial fibrillation. Now can we go further and say everybody should smoke marijuana to prevent them from developing afib? No, we can’t say that.

Travis Van Slooten: Yeah, absolutely. And the other thing is I suppose we don’t have the details of the study either like what form they were taking, how much they were taking every day. We don’t have that information, do we, from that study? I mean you might not have it on hand, but…

Steve Ryan: I don’t have it on hand but there would probably be some indication of that, and I’d have to look that up and maybe get back to you. Those are some good questions. But you know, in general they usually do these things it’s usually 10 mg a day. That’s a general rule of thumb. But again, I don’t really know the specifics. But people who are dependent, those are probably smokers, and they were probably doing much more smoking of pot than the other group. That worked for them and prevented them from developing afib more so than the other people.

Travis Van Slooten: Now, did that study say they were pot smokers or they were taking the medical prescription form of marijuana? Because we talked earlier that smoking was probably not the good form or as the medicals…

Steve Ryan: Since this is done between 2007 and 2014 we can assume they were smokers.

Travis Van Slooten: And that to me is kind of promising because it’s saying — of course, that leads to more questions, right? Because what’s more effective, the recreational smoking pot or the medical form of it, you know, like the edibles? I mean all these things are still — we have no idea here.

Steve Ryan: We just don’t know yet, we just don’t know. Another part of this study that was interesting was people using marijuana were 46% less likely, and dependent users 58% less likely to die in the hospital. Now that’s good news because one of the main problems with afib is you’re in the hospital so often, and that’s really good news and something that is worth looking into. By the way, this study that I’m talking about hasn’t been published yet.

Travis Van Slooten: Oh, it hasn’t, okay.

Steve Ryan: So that’s why we don’t have the information on all the details of the study. As soon as the study get published we’ll get that information.

Travis Van Slooten: That’s good to know in case someone is listening this and they’re trying to Google this they’re not going to find it right now.

. Steve Ryan: Yeah, right, I don’t think so.

Travis Van Slooten: So the bottom line with this topic then is what’s your bottom line message to someone that would pose that question that was posed to me which is, “Hey, I have afib and I smoke pot, is this good or bad?” Mypersonal response to them Steve is kind of what you said Steve “We don’t know much of anything on this topic right now because it’s kind of so new.” And the other thing is I just told them I would approach it kind of like smoking or drinking; that it’s probably not best to do it heavily on a regular basis. And more importantly, if you smoke pot and you have an episode that’s probably an indication that’s a trigger so you should probably avoid it. But likewise if you are a moderate smoker and it seems to keep your afib episode at bay, then it might be okay to continue to smoke. That was kind of the way I handled it. Is that kind of the way you handle that answer or that question is well?

Steve Ryan: Yes. Some of the people like John wrote to me and said “99% of these afib attacks occurred when I’m under the influence of marijuana.”

Travis Van Slooten: Okay, the obvious trigger.

Steve Ryan: Yeah, and Jonathan writes “I tried a tiny bit of brownie for the first time since being diagnosed with afib. It was okay until about two hours later. I went into afib and a bit later came the closest I ever have to blacking out. I don’t think it’s for me anymore.” On the other hand, Jim writes that he uses it every night and it work for him fine.

Travis Van Slooten: Yeah, so it kind of gets back to the whole what’s trigger, what’s not. And so yeah, I think it’s all fascinating. Definitely I think this is going to become more and more of an issue as I said in the opening here with the marijuana legalization kind of sweeping across the country here. This is going to become a very hot topic, I think.

Steve Ryan: Yes, definitely.

Travis Van Slooten: Well, Steve, I just want to thank you for your time to discuss this topic, and I look forward to talking to you in the next week’s episode. We’re going to be talking about the real cost of living with afib. So Steve, thanks again for your time.

Steve Ryan: You’re welcome.

Outro: Thanks for listening to the podcast.Be sure to visit livingwithatrialfibrillation.com for more information, inspiration and support. Be well, and please join us next time.

Catheter Ablation Compared to Amiodarone Drug Therapy in Heart Failure Patients with A-Fib

Background: I previously reported on the ground-breaking CASTLE-AF study published in 2018 which compared treatment with conventional antiarrhythmic drugs (both rate and rhythm control) versus treatment with catheter ablation. I recently came across another, similar study. While the 2016 AATAC study pre-dates the CASTLE-AF study, it also contributes to our understanding of treatment choices for heart failure patients with A-Fib.

Treating Patients with Both Heart Failure and A-Fib

Heart failure is very common in patients with A-Fib (estimated at 42%). These are very sick patients. For people with advanced heart failure, nearly 90% die within one year.

In patients with both conditions, a cardiologist’s first treatment is most often drug therapy with an antiarrhythmic drug. But is this an effective strategy? Is this really in the patient’s best interest? A 2016 study says NO!

AATAC stands for: Ablation vs Amiodarone for Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation in Patients With Congestive Heart Failure and an Implanted ICD/CRTD

AATAC: Catheter Ablation vs. Amiodarone Antiarrhythmic Drug Therapy

In the powerful AATAC multicenter worldwide randomized trial, catheter ablation was compared to drug treatment with amiodarone (the most effective but also the most toxic of the antiarrhythmic drugs).

The 203 enrolled patients had persistent A-Fib and heart failure with an Ejection Fraction of less than 40%. Patients also all had either a dual-chamber implantable cardioverter defibrillator or cardiac resynchronization therapy defibrillator.

All patients in the AATAC study were given optimal medical therapy for congestive heart failure such as ACE inhibitors, etc.

Patients were randomized to receive either a catheter ablation or drug treatment with amiodarone.

Note: The AATAC study should be read in conjunction with the more significant CASTLE-AF study which found similar results.

Group 1: Catheter Ablation

The first group received a catheter ablation of the pulmonary veins (PVI) along with roof lines and extensive ablations on the left atrial posterior wall; if non-PV potentials were found, the superior vena cava was isolated. At their discretion, EPs could ablate complex fractionated electrograms and non-PV triggers.

A ‘re-do procedure’ could be performed during the 3-month blanking period.

Group 2: Amiodarone (AMIO) Drug Treatment

The Amiodarone (AMIO) group was given 400 mg twice a day for 2 weeks followed by 400 mg each day for the next 2 weeks, then they were given a maintenance dose of AMIO 200 mg/day for the balance of the 24 month study period.

Study Follow-up and Results

All patients were followed for a minimum of 24 months. Recurrence was measured by the implantable devices with device interrogation at 3, 6, 12, and 24 months follow-up. Key findings at the end of the trial period include:

Recurrence: 70% of patients in the ablation group were recurrence and A-Fib free (after an average of 1.4 procedures) vs. only 34% of the Amiodarone (AMIO) group.

PVI with/without posterior wall isolation: Higher success was reported in patients undergoing PVI with posterior wall isolation compared to PVI alone (79% vs. 8%).

Amiodarone therapy was found to be significantly more likely to fail.

Cardioversion: During the 3-month blanking period 51% of the Amiodarone (AMIO) group needed cardioversion vs. 3% of the ablation group.

The unplanned hospitalization rate was 31% in the ablation group vs. 57% in the AMIO group. This is a 45% relative risk reduction of hospitalization.

A significantly lower mortality was observed in the ablation group: 8% vs. AMIO 18%.

Summary: Catheter Ablation Superior to Amiodarone Drug Therapy

Heart failure and A-Fib are common cardiac conditions that often coexist.

The AATAC study, the first randomized study of heart failure patients with persistent A-Fib, found that catheter ablation is superior to amiodarone drug therapy in achieving freedom from A-Fib long-term.

In addition, treatment with catheter ablation improved mortality in these patients, increased exercise capacity and Quality of Life (QofL) along with reduced unplanned hospitalizations.

Acknowledging My Bias
I admit to being biased against amiodarone drug therapy due to personal experience and from what others have shared. (For example, see Karen Muccino’s A-Fib story.) I am horrified that anyone would be put on such a high initial dosage of amiodarone as in this study. I would never participate in such a study. But obviously all doctors don’t share my concerns.
If a less potent (and less dangerous) antiarrhythmic drug had been used, it’s probable the study results would have been even more favorable for the ablation group.

What This Means to A-Fib Patients

These patients were in persistent A-Fib along with heart failure. These are some of the most difficult patients to make A-Fib free.

The EPs and A-Fib centers in this study were some of the best in the world. That there was a 70% success rate and no recurrences after 2 years is a testimony to the advanced mapping and ablation skills of these EPs. It’s remarkable how far catheter ablation strategies have improved over the years.

On the downside, not all EPs are equal. The single procedure success rate varied greatly from 29% to 61%. (See Huge Growth in Number of EPs Doing Catheter Ablations, But All EPs Are Not Equal.)

Catheter Ablation Group: Improved Ejection Fractions

Among the 203 enrolled patients, it’s not surprising that there were 26 deaths during this study. These were very sick patients with congestive heart failure and Ejection Fraction below 40%. (An EF below 50% indicates a weakened heart muscle that is no longer pumping efficiently; an EF in the normal range is 50% to 75%.)

The good news is that for many in the catheter ablation group, their ejection fraction was significantly improved and they were no longer in heart failure.

Catheter Ablation Outperforms Antiarrhythmic Drugs

We now have 2 studies which demonstrate that compared to antiarrhythmic drug therapy, catheter ablation lowers death rate among A-Fib patients (with heart failure), improves QofL and lets patients live longer and healthier lives. Other major benefits of ablation include reduced unplanned hospitalizations and increased exercise capacity.

Take-Away for A-Fib Patients

I think we can draw conclusions from the AATAC and the CASTLE AF studies that also apply to A-Fib patients (not in heart failure).

Rather than a life on antiarrhythmic drug therapy, the AATAC and CASTLE AF studies encourage A-Fib patients to seek a catheter ablation (including a second “re-do ablation”, if necessary.)

Bottom-line: Hard research data shows that a catheter ablation is the better choice over drug therapy. An ablation can rid you of your A-Fib symptoms, make you feel better, and let you live a healthier and longer life.

Don’t just live with A-Fib. Seek your cure.

 

Resources for this Article
Di Biase, L., et al. Ablation Versus Amiodarone for Treatment of Persistent Atrial Fibrillation in Patients With Congestive Heart Failure and an Implanted Device. Results From the AATAC Multicenter Randomized Trial. Circulation. 2016;133:1637-1644. March 30, 2016. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/133/17/1637 DOI  https://doi.org/10.1161/circulationaha.115.019406

Anticoagulants, Dementia and Atrial Fibrillation

The prevalence of dementia and atrial fibrillation (A-Fib) are both on the rise with the aging population and increasing burden of vascular risk factors.

The association between A-Fib and dementia is well documented. To describe that relationship, researchers use the term “strongly associated” rather than explicitly state that A-Fib causes or leads to dementia. That’s as far as they can go, because there might be other factors at play.

Patients with A-Fib lose 15%-30% of their heart’s ability to pump blood to their brain, and to the rest of their body.

A-Fib Linked with Dementia

As patients, we use more direct language. All things being equal, we say A-Fib leads to and/or causes dementia. It makes intuitive sense, doesn’t it? Patients with A-Fib lose 15%-30% of their heart’s ability to pump blood to their brain, and to the rest of their body. (See: Increased Dementia Risk Caused by A-Fib: 20 Year Study Findings)

Research confirms that older adults with dementia had significantly reduced blood flow into the brain compared with older adults with normal brain function or young adults.

Research Reveals: Anticoagulants Reduce Risk of Dementia

Swedish study investigated the effect of anticoagulation on the development of dementia among A-Fib patients. Research data was collected on patients diagnosed with and treated for A-Fib in Sweden between 2006-2014. This included 444,106 patients, and over 1.5 million patient-years.

The retrospective registry study compared the incidence of dementia developed in A-Fib patients with and without ongoing anticoagulation with warfarin or direct oral anticoagulation (DOAC) (i.e. dabigatran, rivaroxaban, apixaban and edoxaban).

This study of A-Fib patients found that anticoagulant treatment was associated with a 29% reduced risk of dementia. There was no difference in dementia risk between patients treated with warfarin and those treated with direct oral anticoagulants. 

It’s encouraging to know that, if you have A-Fib and must take anticoagulants, they may reduce dementia to a limited degree.

The authors concluded that the risk of dementia is higher among A-Fib patients not treated with anticoagulation.

In fact, absence of anticoagulation treatment was among the strongest predictors for dementia along with age, Parkinson’s Disease, and alcohol abuse.

Anticoagulants May Reduce Micro-Clots

This study did not tell us how anticoagulation achieves this effect.

Some speculate that anticoagulants, while preventing macro-clots (strokes), also prevent or reduce micro-clots and smaller ischemic events which damage the brain over time.

Another Reason to Not Live with A-Fib

This study also raises another reason not to live in A-Fib if at all possible. Unlike macro-clots which cause strokes and which can kill or severely disable, A-Fib tends to produce micro-clots (smaller ischemic events or silent mini-strokes). The effect of micro-clots may not even be noticeable but, nonetheless, damages our brains over time.

Resources for this Article
• Risk of dementia higher without oral anticoagulants for AF. Cardiac Rhythm News. 15th December 2017.  https://cardiacrhythmnews.com/leif-friberg-oac-dementia-af/

• Friberg l, Rosenqvist M. Summary by Geoffrey Barnes. Less Dementia With Oral Anticoagulation in Atrial Fibrillation. American College of Cardiology, Oct. 26, 2017. http://www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/journal-scans/2017/10/26/15/38/less-dementia-with-oral-anticoagulation-in-atrial-fibrillation.

• Gallagher, C et al. Reducing Risk of Dementia in AF–Is Oral Anticoagulation the Key? Mayo Clinic Proceedings, February 2018, Volume 93, Issue 2, Pages 127-129. http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30920-5/fulltext. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2017.12.017

 

From My Mailbox: Catheter Ablation Complication Rate: Compared to What?

Frequently I get emails asking about the complication rate of catheter ablation.

I like the suggestion made by Dr. David Keane of St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin Ireland. Complications from A-Fib ablation should be viewed in perspective, that is, compared to the alternative of a lifetime on antiarrhythmic drugs (AADs).

The following is based on his presentation from the 2014 Boston AF Symposium.

Meta-Analysis: RF Catheter Ablation vs. Antiarrhythmic Drugs

In what may be the first systematic literature review and meta-analysis of clinical studies of Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) vs. Antiarrhythmic Drugs (AADs), the reviewers looked at studies from 1990 to 2007. [Note: RFA wasn’t in use until the mid-1990s.] Included were sixty-three RFA studies and 34 AAD studies.

RF Ablation: From 1990-2007, the single procedure success rate for Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) without need of post-op Antiarrhythmic Drug (AAD) therapy was 57% [today’s success rates are in the 70%–85% range], multiple procedure success rates without post-op AADs were 71% [today’s success rates are closer to 90%], and the multiple procedure success rate with post-op AADs was 77%.

AAD Therapy: The success rate for AAD therapy alone was 52%.

Note: The meta-analysis included five AADs: amiodarone, dofetilide, sotalol, flecainide, and propafenone. Amiodarone was the most effective. [Amiodarone is the most toxic and dangerous of the five AADs and is usually prescribed only for short periods of time and under close supervision for bad side effects.]

Adverse Event: side effect or any undesirable experience associated with the use of a medical product in a patient. In the US, adverse events are reported to the FDA.

Side Effects Cause Patients to Stop Taking AADs: Because of adverse events (side effects), 10.4% of patients discontinued taking their AADs, 13.5% discontinued AADs because of treatment failure, and 4.2% just didn’t take the AADs.

The overall discontinuation rate of AADs was almost 30%.

Findings: Efficiency and Complications Rates

Based on the meta-analysis, reviewers found Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) had a higher efficiency rate and a lower rate of complications than AAD Therapy.

Findings: Adverse Events Ablation vs AAD

As a point of reference, the complication rate of the common appendectomy is 18%.

This meta-analysis found adverse events for catheter ablation was 5% vs 30% for AAD studies.

More about AAD Therapy adverse events: The overall death rate for AAD therapy was 2.8% (i.e., sudden death 0.6%, treatment-related death 0.5%, non treatment-related death 1.3%). Other adverse events from AAD therapy were:

•  CV (cardiovascular) Events 3.7%
•  Bradycardia 1.9%
•  GI (Gastrointestinal problems) 6.5%
•  Neuropathy 5.0%
•  Thyroid Dysfunction 3.3%
•  Torsades 0.7%
•  Q-T prolongation 0.2%

Conclusions from Meta-Analysis

Most adverse events associated with antiarrhythmic drugs (AADs) are life altering and permanent. (For example, bradycardia requires a pacemaker.)

Whereas complications from catheter ablation are generally short term and not permanent. (For example, when tamponade is repaired, the heart usually returns to normal.)

While this meta-analysis covered 1990-2007, based on subsequent research the trends are continuing. In general, it appears it’s safer to have an ablation than to not have one while living a life-time on AAD therapy.

D. Keane MD

The Full Report: For the full summary of Dr. Keane’s 2014 Symposium presentation, see: Catheter Ablation Complications: In-depth Review and Comparison with Antiarrhythmic Drug Therapy.

What this Means to Patients

If you are age 70 or 80, antiarrhythmic drugs might be a realistic option.

But if you are younger, it’s inconceivable that you would spend the rest of your life taking AADs. In addition to not working well or losing their effectiveness over time, they can have bad, cumulative side effects as described above.

Today’s ‘Guidelines for the Management of Patients with Atrial Fibrillation’ reflect this fact and allow you to select a catheter ablation without having to spend time trying various antiarrhythmic drugs (while your A-Fib may be getting worse).

In general, research shows it’s safer to have an ablation than to not have one (and live a lifetime on AA drug therapy).

Resources for this Article
•  Deshmukh, A. et al. In-Hospital Complications Associated with Catheter Ablation of AF in US: 2000-2010. Analysis of 93,801 Procedures. Circulation. 2013;128:2104-2112. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/128/19/2104.abstract

•  Haïssaguerre M. “Electrophysiological End Point for Catheter Ablation of Atrial Fibrillation Initiated From Multiple Pulmonary Venous Foci,” Circulation. 2000;101:p. 1409

•  Jais, P. “Ablation Therapy for Atrial Fibrillation: Past, Present and Future,” Cardiovascular Research, Vol. 54, Issue 2, May 2002, P. 343

•  Cappato R et al. “Updated worldwide survey on the methods, efficacy, and safety of catheter ablation for human atrial fibrillation.” Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology. 2010: 3:32-38.

•  AHA/ACC/HRS. 2014 Guideline for the Management of Patients With Atrial Fibrillation: Executive Summary: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and the Heart Rhythm Society. Circulation. 2014; 130: e199-e267 DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000041.

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