Cryoablation effective in treating arrhythmia

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While cardiologists have traditionally used heat during a minimally invasive outpatient procedure to regulate a heart beat, a new form of catheter-delivered therapy for cardiac arrhythmias, called cryoablation, uses extreme cold to destroy faulty tissue with sub-zero temperatures.

Cryoablation is especially suited for treating certain patients with high-risk arrhythmias, according to Walter Kerwin, MD, a cardiologist in the Division of Cardiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Catheter cryoablation uses intense cold – to minus 90 degrees Celsius – to destroy very small, carefully-selected areas of heart tissue causing the irregular rhythm. The effects of cryoablation occur slowly, over minutes, in contrast to radiofrequency ablation, which heats the defective tissue to destroy it within seconds.

The procedure uses a two-step approach that gives physicians time to assess the cooling effect on both normal and dysfunctional pathways, which is potentially safer.

Cryoablation has been performed for several years in the United States and Europe, but its benefits, compared to other treatments for high-risk arrhythmias, are not widely known by the general public and some healthcare professionals, Kerwin said.

Currently, Kerwin is the principal investigator for a U.S. FDA study to evaluate the safety of treating patients who have atrial fibrillation with a cryoablation catheter system as compared to medication.