Elder Care: Heart Procedure to Prevent Stroke May Be An Alternative to Medication


Atrial Fibrillation Treatment

Catheter Ablation

A heart procedure, named a catheter ablation procedure, may be an effective alternative for treating atrial fibrillation, the leading cause of strokes in the U.S.  Generally, the procedure has been considered secondary to medication; however, recent findings indicate the procedure may be more effective than medication.

Dr. Thomas Bunch, a heart rhythm specialist who conducted the study with three colleagues, considers the results encouraging.  “This means we have the opportunity to improve the long-term quality of life in many of our patients, despite the presence or absence of other diseases they may have in addition to atrial fibrillation.1 He estimates that as many as one in eight people will develop atrial fibrillation in the future.
Research of a group of nearly 38,000 people showed that those with atrial fibrillation who underwent the catheter ablation procedure fared better than those on medications alone over three years.1
Dr. Douglas Packer at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, stated that “those at the highest risk of stroke still appear to have received substantial benefit from the ablation. The risk going in doesn’t seem to matter on the outcome.”
AF is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that commonly causes poor blood flow to the body.2

Potential causes of atrial fibrillation:

  • High blood pressure
  • heart attacks
  • Lung diseases
  • Abnormal heart valves
  • Exposure to stimulants such as medications, caffeine, tobacco or alcohol3

The National Stroke Association points to atrial fibrillation as the cause for about 15 percent of all strokes in the United States.4  The prevalence of atrial fibrillation increases with age and is more common in males than females.5  The American Heart Association estimates as many as five million Americans experience the chaotic heart-muscle contractions of atrial fibrillation.6 The Centers for Disease and Control Prevention predicts that as many as 12 million Americans will have atrial fibrillation by 2050.6
For the aging population, the findings of the study are encouraging because the procedure offers an alternative to medication. Because over-medication is a serious form of abuse in nursing homes, this procedure to treat atrial fibrillation is an appealing alternative.


1.       “Procedure May reduce stroke risk with irregular heartbeat,” Chicago Tribune, August 5, 2013
2.       Definition: Atrial Fibrillation, Mayo Clinic
3.       Causes: Atrial Fibrillation, Mayo Clinic
4.       “Prevalence of Diagnosed Atrial Fibrillation in Adults,” The Journal of the American Medical Association, May 9, 2001
5.       “Prevalence of Diagnosed Atrial Fibrillation Stratified by Age and Sex
6.        Chicago Tribune