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NHLBI Researchers Confirm Common Surgical Procedure Decreases Irregular Heart Rhythm

Embargoed for Release:
March 16, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT

WHAT: National Institutes of Health-funded researchers have determined that a widely used surgical technique for correcting abnormal heart rhythm is effective, but increases the likelihood that patients will later need permanent pacemakers. The study included 260 patients with atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heart rhythm, who each had mitral-valve surgery at one of 20 research centers in the United States and Canada.

The study results were presented today at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Session in San Diego and published simultaneously in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Led by Marc Gillinov, M.D., surgical director of the Center for Atrial Fibrillation at Cleveland Clinic, the study was conducted through the Cardiothoracic Surgical Trials Network, which is supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke—both part of the NIH—as well as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The technique, called surgical cardiac ablation, involves using a probe to scar small areas inside the heart that cause heart rhythm problems. Surgeons routinely use this technique during heart operations but, until now, its safety and effectiveness have not been rigorously measured.

Atrial fibrillation affects up to half of patients who undergo mitral-valve surgery and is associated with reduced survival and increased risk of stroke.

WHO: Marissa A. Miller, D.V.M., M.P.H., Chief of the Advanced Technologies and Surgery Branch/Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the NHLBI is available to comment on the findings and implications of this research.

CONTACT: For more information or to schedule an interview with Dr. Miller, please contact the NHLBI Communications Office at 301-496-4236 or