Early intervention in atrial fibrillation (a chronic case of cardiac arrhythmia) can reduce complications. A group of international researchers has presented their research in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

At present, it is standard practice to monitor heart rhythms and suppress any symptoms whenever necessary. The patient can be treated at an early stage either by ablation (scarring or destroying heart tissue that triggers or sustains an abnormal heart rhythm) or with anti-arrhythmic medication.

Cardiovascular complications may occur over time if the symptoms are merely monitored and managed. Take, for example, a stroke, heart failure or a heart attack. This can lead to death. Early intervention can reduce the number of patients who have these types of complications. Up until now, however, there was no solid evidence to support this.

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The research

The researchers compared the standard approach of monitoring versus early intervention. A total of 2789 patients took part in the study. The research was carried out in 135 hospitals spread across 11 different European countries. Half of the patients in the study were treated according to the standard procedures.

The other half was treated at an earlier stage. The percentage of serious complications fell to 3.9 percent in cases where early treatment was provided. This compares to the 5 percent in the group where the standard procedures were followed.

Maastricht UMC+

The Maastricht University Medical Center (Maastricht UMC+) was one of the hospitals in the Netherlands that participated in the research. Prof. Dr. Harry Crijns, head of cardiology at the hospital, states in the press release that these findings will have a major impact on healthcare associated with atrial fibrillation.

“It may seem like a small victory. But translate that into absolute numbers on an annual basis. In the Netherlands, we are talking about hundreds of patients a year who will be spared severe distress. And those are just patients we see in hospitals.”

According to Crijns, the published results of the study prompt others to look at the healthcare surrounding atrial fibrillation. “It is, and will always be different in every case, but we have shown that ablation or medication at an earlier stage can be beneficial to patients. Atrial fibrillation is not a harmless condition.”

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