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Late-Breaking Highlights: “To Screen Or Not To Screen And Then What? Studies of Detection and Treatment of AF”

This was an exciting session at AHA 2020 which focused on clinical trials of screening, monitoring, and early intervention in Atrial Fibrillation (AF). Screening of AF is a controversial topic and for individuals >65 years, current AHA guidelines give a Grade 2a recommendation for screening whereas USPSTF guidelines suggest that there is insufficient evidence for screening. In this article, I will be discussing studies that addressed AF screening and their implications on clinical practice with Dr. Stavros Stavrakis who is an electrophysiologist and Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City.

Question: What are the important goals when we think about screening for AF?

Dr. Stavrakis: The important goals for screening in AF are to establish a diagnosis of new AF in patients at high risk of stroke so they can be anticoagulated, ultimately reducing the risk of stroke.

There were 3 important trials that addressed AF screening in different patient populations.

SEARCH AF

  • In patients who have undergone cardiac surgery and have a higher risk of stroke but no history of pre-operative or pre-discharge AF, what is the risk of developing AF/Aflutter in the sub-acute post discharge period?
  • 336 post-cardiac surgery patients (median CHADS2Vasc Score 4) but with little or no AF in the post-operative period (<24 hours of AF but no intent to anticoagulate at discharge) were randomized to continuous cardiac rhythm monitoring vs usual care during the sub-acute post discharge period.
  • In the enhanced cardiac rhythm monitoring group 19.6% participants developed AF/Aflutter as compared with 1.7% in the usual care group with an absolute rate difference 17.9% (p<0.001, NNS=6).

Question: What are the implications of this trial on clinical practice?

Dr. Stavrakis: Risk of POAF, although peaking at 48-72hours post-op, is not confined to the index hospitalization, continuous monitoring for POAF can identify AF in a significant proportion of patients (20%) that may need treatment with anticoagulation. Whether anticoagulation improves outcomes in these patients, remains to be determined.

VITAL-AF Trial

  • Among older adults (age>65) presenting to primary care visits, does point of care rhythm assessment with a single lead ECG result in increased diagnosis of AF?
  • 30,722 patients were randomized to screening vs control.
  • Screening did not significantly affect AF diagnosis in the overall study sample (1.74% vs 1.60%, p=0.33)
  • Increased likelihood of AF diagnosis at primary care encounter (p<0.02)
  • Effectiveness of screening varied by age with effective screening in age>85 (risk difference 1.88%, NNS=53)
  • Overall no difference in the initiation of anticoagulation

Question: What are the implications of this trial on clinical practice?

Dr. Stavrakis: There are 2 important implications from this trial.

  1. Screening everyone age>65 for AF at a single time point is not an efficient way to detect AF, especially if the usual care is very good in detecting AF by pulse palpation or BP device.Screening at age>85 may be more effective than usual care to identify silent AF, but it is uncertain if it changes management or outcomes

mSTOPS

  • Can screening for AF by wearing an ECG patch improve clinical outcomes at 3-years?
  • 1718 actively monitored participants vs 3371 matched observational controls with analysis of 3-year clinical outcomes.
  • Mean duration of follow-up was 29 months
  • 11.4% of actively monitored patients developed AF vs 7.3% of matched controls
  • No difference in anticoagulation prescription between both arms (45.2% vs 44%, p=0.84)
  • 3-year Primary combined end point (death, stroke, systemic embolism or MI) for entire cohort was 4.5 vs 5.5 per 100 person-year (HR 0.79, p<0.01) and for diagnosed AF patients it was 8.4 vs 13.8 per 100 person-year (HR 0.53, p<0.01).

Question: What are the implications of this trial on clinical practice?

Dr. Stavrakis: Clinical outcomes can be improved with AF screening provided these patients are followed up for extended periods of time. However, this was not a randomized trial and unknown confounders may have influenced the outcome.

Question: What are 3 important unanswered questions pertinent to screening of AF?

  1. What is the impact of AF screening on clinical outcomes? Large studies, adequately powered to detect clinical outcomes, are underway (SAFER, HEARTLINE, GUARD-AF).
  2. What is the optimal screening intensity that identifies AF which would benefit from anticoagulation?
  3. What is the minimum AF burden that, if identified with screening, would benefit from anticoagulation?

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

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The Future of Wearable Technology & Detecting Atrial Fibrillation – An Update!

Last November at AHA18, I was lucky enough to catch a talk from one of the investigators, Dr. Marco Perez, working on the Apple Heart Study, where he described the goals of the project. I even wrote about it for the blog I wrote at AHA18 in Chicago, which you can find here.

To quickly recap, this unprecedented collaboration between Apple and Stanford is a progressive clinical trial that uses data from Apple Watch devices from over 400,000 participants. The main purpose of this study was to examine if atrial fibrillation (AFib) can be reliably diagnosed from irregular pulse notification data from wearable devices. In November, Dr. Perez mentioned that they wouldn’t have data until early 2019, and this past March, they released some results that are really exciting.

Highlights from the findings include:

  • Around 0.5% of participants received irregular pulse notifications, which was particularly important since people were concerned that these devices would potentially over-notify people.
  • The pulse detection algorithm of the Apple Watch has a 71% positive predictive value – this was compared to simultaneous electrocardiography patch recordings.
  • The majority of the time (84%) when participants received irregular pulse notifications, they were found to be in AFib at the time of the notification.
  • 1/3 of the participants who received irregular pulse notifications and were then followed up by using an ECG patch over a week later were found to have AFib. This isn’t entirely surprising since AFib is an intermittent condition, so it’s not uncommon for it to go undetected in subsequent monitoring.
  • 57% of people who received irregular pulse notifications sought medical attention afterwards.
  • A clinical trial could be conducted in this large-scale virtual manner

The last point is particularly important because this is the first study of its kind. It was almost completely virtual, at least from the standpoint that the researchers analyzing the data never once had any contact with the participants. Additionally, the scope of the number of people who were analyzed is impressive – 400,000 participants is quite the sample size, especially for someone like me who studies heart disease in mice!

Because AFib is an extremely common condition, affecting between 2-6 million people in the United States, that often goes undiagnosed, understanding that wearable technology can aid patients in detecting their condition is huge. Also, with the increase in technology in our health care sphere (specifically in cardiology), something that was expertly discussed by Dr. John Chen earlier this year on his blog is that this is just the beginning in understanding how wearable technology can help us treat disease. We now have another tool in our kit, and this one looks promising.

In Stanford’s press release, Dr. Perez said, “The performance and accuracy we observed in this study provides important information as we seek to understand the potential impact of wearable technology on the health system. Further research will help people make more informed health decisions.”

Interestingly, Johnson & Johnson and Apple recently announced their plans to build off these preliminary results by partnering together in a new project called HEARTLINE. This study will focus on an older population (~ 65 years) of around 150,000 participants who, due to their age, are at a higher risk of AFib. It’s a really exciting time to be in the cardiology field since this is just the beginning of this type of research, which is full of therapeutic potential.

It’s also really thrilling to be able to follow-up with this study, especially since it all started with my father-in-law, who has AFib, being nervous about using wearable technology to detect his condition. I’m excited to share this data with him as well since maybe he’ll feel a little more comfortable using it now.

Examples of the notifications that participants in the Apple Heart Study receive. Courtesy of Apple

Examples of the notifications that participants in the Apple Heart Study receive. Courtesy of Apple

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Management of Stroke Patients: A One Man Show or A Tag-Team?

Atrial fibrillation (AF) increases risk of stroke up to 5 folds, resulting in considerable physical, cognitive impairment and high mortality1. Thus, AF related strokes are very expensive to treat compared to non-AF strokes2. Oral anticoagulation is a well-established therapy in the majority of stroke cases3. Warfarin reduces the risk of stroke by 64% and mortality by 30% compared to placebo3.

Recent data from the pinnacle registry presented by ‘Roopinder Sandhu, Edmonton, AB, Canada’ at the Scientific Sessions 2018, highlighted three key challenges in anti-coagulants management in stroke patients4. Data from a national outpatient registry reported over 700,000 patients had a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation5. Although oral anticoagulation use increased over time, around 40% of patients who are eligible for anti-coagulation never got started on therapy5. The second gap is sub-therapeutic dosing. Recent data from the orbit registry evaluated over 5700 patients who were recently started on a new drug and reported that one in eight patients were either underdosed or overdosed6. Further, there was a higher rate of adverse events in patients who had dosing that was sub therapeutic. The third gap is non-adherence. Data from administrative claims based on a large U.S. commercial insurance database, calculated adherence based on the fill date and the days of supply on the pharmacy claims over a median of 1.1 years7. Less than half of patients who were started on a drug therapy reached the threshold of proportion days covered of 80% or higher. This proportion was less for patients who were on Warfarin.

Given the public health consequences of untreated AF, it is necessary to evaluate different strategies to deliver stroke prevention therapy. Data from 30 randomized clinical trials evaluating the impact of pharmacists, versus standard care, showed superior results in the pharmacist care group in reducing systolic blood pressure (by 8 mm HG), diastolic blood pressure (by 4 mm HG) and total cholesterol (by 17 milligrams DL) and LDL (by 13 mg DL)10. This was done through educational intervention and identification of drug related problems followed by early feedback to the treating physician.

Roopinder added a few possible explanations to what could be driving such impact in the Canadian setting. Typically, a general practitioner would be dealing with patients with a higher evidence of chronic diseases. Further, patient demands often exceed the available physician capacity.

While these results collectively suggest that pharmacist led strategies may be a promising way forward because of their accessibility, drug expertise and their ability to build a trusted relationship. A few key things should be considered. First, that anticoagulation remains to be a complicated problem when it comes to individual patients, with many factors playing a role in the decision process including; medical history (as prior bleeding) and patient preferences. Second, while these interventions seem beneficial in the short-term it may lead to the same shortcomings in the long-term with the increase in demand on the pharmacists as the main provider.

Finally, a key question remains, would a collaborative approach between physicians and pharmacists yield better outcomes through reducing the burden on both providers and simultaneously increasing the time allocated to stroke patients on a case-by-case basis?

 

REFERENCES

  1. Developed with the special contribution of the European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA), Endorsed by the European Association for Cardio-Thoracic Surgery (EACTS), Authors/Task Force Members, Camm, A. J., Kirchhof, P., Lip, G. Y., … & Al-Attar, N. (2010). Guidelines for the management of atrial fibrillation: the Task Force for the Management of Atrial Fibrillation of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). European heart journal31(19), 2369-2429.
  2. Stewart, S., Murphy, N., Walker, A., McGuire, A., & McMurray, J. J. V. (2004). Cost of an emerging epidemic: an economic analysis of atrial fibrillation in the UK. Heart90(3), 286-292.
  3. Ruff, C. T., Giugliano, R. P., Braunwald, E., Hoffman, E. B., Deenadayalu, N., Ezekowitz, M. D., … & Yamashita, T. (2014). Comparison of the efficacy and safety of new oral anticoagulants with warfarin in patients with atrial fibrillation: a meta-analysis of randomised trials. The Lancet383(9921), 955-962.
  4. Sandhu, R. K., Guirguis, L. M., Bungard, T. J., Youngson, E., Dolovich, L., Brehaut, J. C., … & McAlister, F. A. (2018). Evaluating the potential for pharmacists to prescribe oral anticoagulants for atrial fibrillation. Canadian Pharmacists Journal/Revue des Pharmaciens du Canada151(1), 51-61.
  5. Marzec, L. N., Wang, J., Shah, N. D., Chan, P. S., Ting, H. H., Gosch, K. L., … & Maddox, T. M. (2017). Influence of direct oral anticoagulants on rates of oral anticoagulation for atrial fibrillation. Journal of the American College of Cardiology69(20), 2475-2484.
  6. Steinberg, B. A., Peterson, E. D., Kim, S., Thomas, L., Gersh, B. J., Fonarow, G. C., … & Piccini, J. P. (2015). Use and outcomes associated with bridging during anticoagulation interruptions in patients with atrial fibrillation: findings from the Outcomes Registry for Better Informed Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation (ORBIT-AF). Circulation131(5), 488-494.
  7. Yao, X., Abraham, N. S., Alexander, G. C., Crown, W., Montori, V. M., Sangaralingham, L. R., … & Noseworthy, P. A. (2016). Effect of adherence to oral anticoagulants on risk of stroke and major bleeding among patients with atrial fibrillation. Journal of the American Heart Association5(2), e003074.
  8. Santschi, V., Chiolero, A., Burnand, B., Colosimo, A. L., & Paradis, G. (2011). Impact of pharmacist care in the management of cardiovascular disease risk factors: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Archives of internal medicine171(16), 1441-1453.

 

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Highlights of the 1st Annual Sex and Gender Conference at AHA18

Walking into the Palmer House Hotel, the longest continuously operating hotel in the United States, you can’t help but pause in awe at the intricate décor and take in the most photographed ceiling in the world. I make my way to the Honoré Ballroom, named after Bertha Honoré Palmer, the wife of Palmer and an astute businesswoman and well-known Chicago socialite of her time, not knowing what to expect for the 1st annual Sex and Gender Influence on Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) conference.

Annabelle Volgman, medical director of the Rush Heart Center for Women, kicks off the evening by thanking the speakers and planning members, and encouraging photography and social media sharing. The many photos of the evening include Bertha Honoré’s portrait adjacent to the colorful and modern logo that, I think, will become a recognized image at future AHA Scientific Session meetings.

Dr. Annabelle Volgman welcomes attendees to the 1st Annual Sex and Gender Influences on Cardiovascular Disease at the Palmer Hotel in Chicago, IL (November 11, 2018).

 

Dr. Nanette Wenger of the Emory Women’s Heart Center starts the conversation with her presentation titled “Why is Mortality from Cardiovascular Disease Rising in Men and Women?” She flashes a graph of CVD mortality on the screen, highlighting the steep decline in the past decades, but the leveling off and reversal in recent years, particularly in women under the age of 55 years. The parallel rise in obesity and diabetes, as well as “non-traditional” CVD risk factors such as depression and perceived stress disproportionally affect women, she explains, and may be responsible for this reversal in CVD death rates. Summarizing the recent paper, “Defining the New Normal in Cardiovascular Risk Factors” by Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones and Dr. Philip Greenland she points to a combination of health behaviors and ideal levels of total cholesterol, blood pressure, and fasting blood glucose, as key factors in achieving cardiovascular health.

“Behavior change,” she says, “is the ‘Holy Grail’ of heart health” and as “health professionals take back the role [of health educator] and address lifestyle behaviors” we will see favorable trends in biomarker targets we’re so interested in.

Later during the Q+A panel, when asked about the best way to approach behavior change with patients, she advises to first, “Give information – if your patient does not have the information, they can’t make a change. Then, let them start with what they would like to start with. Don’t give them 8-10 [health behaviors] to change – they will tune you out.” Dr. Gina Lundberg, co-director of the Emory Women’s Heart Center, chimes in that the clinician’s “approach to weight loss is similar to smoking cessation. Identify the obstacles in the patient’s way – money, time, desire – and often just identifying those hurdles will lead to improvement.”

Dr. Laxmi Mehta, director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Program at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, adds that she includes an emotional appeal – “Where is the patient going and what do they want?” Seeing a child’s wedding or playing with their grandkids, developing rapport with patients and fitting your recommendations to their goals can start the health behavior change process, even in a 5 minute clinician-patient discussion.

 

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WATCHMAN: An Alternative to Warfarin for the High Risk Patient

“Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences”
Norman Cousins

I recently saw Mr. John Doe for atrial fibrillation (AF). Well into his eighties, he enjoys a good quality of life. This elderly gentleman is mostly unaware of his paroxysms of AF. However, he had also suffered a stroke in the past, and as such was managed with warfarin. He was lucky. Recently, he experienced a gastrointestinal hemorrhage, requiring temporary reversal of his anticoagulant in addition to receiving a few pints of blood. There were no apparent clinical triggers for this event. Mr. Doe is not a fictional person but is a typical example of what is a common clinical dilemma: how best to protect against stroke in a patient who is at high risk, yet becomes intolerant to warfarin.

Previously, these patients were commonly switched to aspirin alone as a poor alternative to anticoagulation. Most clinicians would feel apprehensive of taking a gamble switching to novel oral anticoagulants which do not have available reversal agents (at the time this blog was written).

So, what then?

Enter the “Watchman.”

The majority of thromboembolic strokes in patients with AF originate in the left atrial appendage (LAA). The function of this structure is to assist with atrial transport, however during AF, atrial blood flow becomes impaired and stasis can occur in the LAA leading to thrombus formation at this location. Fragmentation and embolization of thrombi can lead to stroke, which is commonly disabling. The presence of comorbid factors such as diabetes, heart failure among other clinical variables can further increase this risk [1].

The last several years has witnessed the development and refinement of procedures referred to as left atrial appendage occlusion. Although there are several of the devices available worldwide, I will refer to the WATCHMAN system which is approved for use in the United States. In brief, the WATCHMAN device resembles a small umbrella (Figure 1). The FDA approved the device for the purpose of preventing embolic stroke with non-valvular AF. The available data that lead to its approval implies a non-inferiority to warfarin [2,3]

the WATCHMAN device resembles a small umbrella

Figure 1. (accessed from www.bostonscientific.com; www.modernhealthcare.com)

The method of device introduction is via a femorally placed venous sheath delivered transseptally (from right to left atrium). The destination of the device is the ostium of the LAA (Figure 2). The ultimate goal of the procedure is to totally exclude the LAA from the chamber, thus preventing flow into and from the LAA, in effect precluding thrombus formation. The procedure is performed with the guidance of transesophageal echocardiography, and typically under general anesthesia. The duration of the implant typically does not exceed an hour. Patients are continued on warfarin during the initial perioperative phase.

the destination of the device is the ostium of the LAA

Figure 2. (Accessed from www.bostonscientific.com; openaccessjournals.com)

Generally, after a forty-five-day period, transesophageal echocardiography is repeated to confirm the absence of peri-device leaks and verify device endothelialization. If the results are favorable, patients can often stop warfarin and switch to antiplatelet therapy. Presently, the available evidence compares WATCHMAN to warfarin, and comparisons to other anticoagulants is lacking.

It appears that enthusiasm for the WATCHMAN appears to be growing. For patients who require long-term warfarin use, but are at risk for hemorrhagic complications, this device appears to be a very good option. Cumulative experience will invariably lead to further improvements in design and greater safety [4,5].
 
References

  1. Lip GY, Lane DA. Stroke prevention in atrial fibrillation: a systematic review. JAMA. 2015;313:1950-62
  2. Holmes DR Jr, Kar S, Price MJ, Whisenant B, Sievert H, Doshi SK, Huber K, Reddy VY Prospective randomized evaluation of the Watchman Left Atrial Appendage Closure device in patients with atrial fibrillation versus long-term warfarin therapy: the PREVAIL trial.J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;64:1-12
  3. https://www.cms.gov/medicare-coverage-database/details/nca-decision-memo.aspx?NCAId=2 81&bc=ACAAAAAAAgAAAA%3d%3d&
  4. Reddy VY1, Doshi SK2, Kar S3, Gibson DN4, Price MJ4, Huber K5, Horton RP6, Buchbinder M7, Neuzil P8, Gordon NT9, Holmes DR Jr10; PREVAIL and PROTECT AF Investigators. 5-Year Outcomes After Left Atrial Appendage Closure: From the PREVAIL and PROTECT AF Trials.J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017;70:2964-2975
  5. Obeyesekere MN.Watchman Device: Left Atrial Appendage Closure For Stroke Prophylaxis In Atrial Fibrillation.J Atr Fibrillation. 2014; 7: 1099

Christian Perzanowski Headshot

Christian Perzanowski is an electrophysiologist in Tampa, FL. His main interests are in ablation techniques for atrial fibrillation and device therapy for congestive heart failure. He reports no conflicts of interests.

Apollo Beach, FL (05/17, CP)

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Deciphering the CABANA trial and what if anything do the results mean to the management of atrial fibrillation?

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
Oscar Wilde

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
Aldous Huxley

As is apparent from my previous blogs, I am very passionate about atrial fibrillation (AF). Undoubtedly, the most common arrhythmia nationally, and likely worldwide, can cause disabling symptoms, lead to a stroke and exacerbate heart failure. In my experience, patients with AF can be categorized as either asymptomatic, or highly affected. Essentially the former are unaware of their diagnosis, and are often found to have AF by serendipity. Life is in fact very easy for them, as well as their clinicians: anticoagulate, rate control and move on.

Now, for those who are symptomatic, there exist management challenges. AF is classified as paroxysmal, which is an intermittent or periodic form of arrhythmia; persistent, which is a sustained form and generally felt to be a progressed state of AF; or permanent, where no interventions are done. There is a paucity of available antiarrhythmic agents to treat and suppress AF. Antiarrhythmic drugs have earned a reputation of not being very effective while causing significant systemic adverse effects. Clinicians who care for symptomatic AF patients have certainly observed them to often experience shortness of breath, chest discomfort, loss of stamina, sensation of tachycardia and in some cases heart failure. Not uncommonly, these symptoms lead to anxiety as well as a compromised quality of life. In short, these patients must be treated.

Over the last decade, the techniques employed to treat AF by catheter-based means have improved in efficacy, even for more advanced forms of persistent AF. Although far from ideal, a number of studies have demonstrated ablation methods (e.g. radiofrequency, referred to colloquially as “heat” or cryoablation, “freezing”) to be superior to attempts at drug suppression. This is no surprise, as ablation addresses the problem directly (e.g. preventing AF from initiating) by calculated tissue destruction. While repeat studies are sometimes needed, the improvement in quality of life and improvement in heart failure class (such as observed with CASTLE-AF, AATAC) are known benefits1,2.

CABANA (Catheter Ablation vs Antiarrhythmic Drug Therapy for Atrial Fibrillation Trial) sought to determine whether AF ablation versus antiarrhythmic drug therapy could prevent a composite endpoint of total mortality, disabling stroke, serious bleeding, or cardiac arrest1. This was a large randomized study with over 2,000 patients. The results, which were presented at the annual Heart Rhythm Society last month, yielded a rather disappointing result: ablation was not superior to drugs for preventing the above composite endpoint2. That’s a rather dubious final score.

In spite of acknowledging what Wilde and Huxley might say, I would like to reconcile several of CABANA’s limitations:

– Personally, I have a grievance with the use of a “composite score” in the above scenario; stroke and “serious bleeding” are in no way equivalent; mechanistically, how would the investigators theorize that ablation could prevent a cardiac arrest?
– Death, while inevitable is indeed a categorical variable, one is either alive or not. Given that the causes of death are innumerable, it does not seem appropriate to consider that ablation could prevent all causes of death. Rather than try to postulate that ablation, or a potpourri of antiarrhythmics could stave of death, a more appropriate measure would be to ascertain prevention of death from heart failure.
– Approximately 25% of patients assigned to drug therapy crossed to ablation. Notably, some sources cited difficulty in enrollment as patients and referring physicians likely felt that ablation would be more beneficial.
– The ablation techniques used, as were the drugs prescribed, were left to the discretion of the treating physicians. Hence, the methods employed were not uniform, and paroxysmal AF cases were pooled with more advanced forms of persistent AF.
– How about continued drug therapy after ablation? The POWDER-AF investigators were able to show less AF burden with continued antiarrhythmic support following AF ablation. This should be expanded upon with larger studies.

From my perspective, I do not believe that CABANA results will affect my practice. Many of us will be curious to see publications regarding future subanalysis. In my opinion, patients who are very symptomatic with AF and have not responded to antiarrhythmics should be treated with AF ablation, and especially those who have developed cardiomyopathy or worsened heart failure as a result of AF6.

References

  1. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2016/03/30/CIRCULATIONAHA.115.019406
  2. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1707855
  3. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00911508
  4. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/news/2018/atrial-fibrillation-catheter-ablation-or-drug-therapy-results-are
  5. Duytschaever M, Demolder A, Phlips T, Sarkozy A, El Haddad M, Taghji P, Knecht S, Tavernier R, Vandekerckhove Y, De Potter T. Pulmonary vein isolation With vs. without continued antiarrhythmic Drug treatment in subjects with Recurrent Atrial Fibrillation (POWDER AF): results from a multicentre randomized trial. Eur Heart J. 2018;39:1429-1437
  6. https://www.hrsonline.org/Policy-Payment/Clinical-Guidelines-Documents/2017-HRS-EHRA-E CAS-APHRS-SOLAECE-Expert-Consensus-Statement-on-Catheter-and-Surgical-Ablation-of-Atrial-Fibrillation

Christian Perzanowski Headshot
Christian Perzanowski is an electrophysiologist in Tampa, FL. His main interests are in ablation techniques for atrial fibrillation and device therapy for congestive heart failure. He reports no conflicts of interests.

sunset in tampa, florida

Tampa, FL (8/17 CP)

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Shared Decision Making In Cardiac Care

Illustration of seniors with life insurance

Shared decision making (SDM) is an approach both patients and clinicians can use to improve patient education and discussion in decision making. Decision aids are tools that promote SDM by improving patient-clinician communication about all treatment options and how the risks and benefits fit with their personal values and preferences. Today, we’ll chat about SDM in the context of cardiac care, with examples from atrial fibrillation and heart failure, as well as the entire CAD spectrum.

A Chronological Look at SDM
In 2012, Karen Sepucha reflected on shared decision-making and patient decision aids in an editorial for Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. Two studies published in the same issue evaluated the impact of decision aids in urgent management of acute coronary syndrome (The Chest Pain Choice Decision Aid) and vascular access choice for coronary angiogram procedures. These studies reflect scenarios that are not traditionally thought to be amenable to SDM, but the results show that SDM in the emergency department and regarding technical treatment decisions, such as femoral versus radial access, had a positive impact on patient knowledge and decisional conflict. Sepucha’s concluding statement still rings true today: “Despite considerable evidence from many studies of decision aids, few of these tools are used routinely in practice.”

There are several challenges to using decision tools in practice. Decision aids should be brief and easily incorporated into the workflow of clinical practice, as well as easily accessible in the public domain. In 2015, CMS implemented a policy around healthcare for atrial fibrillation patients requiring all non-implanting physicians to use evidence-based decision tools and SDM practices. A 2017 article by Megan Coylewright and David Holmes in Circulation caution against this CMS mandate for SDM for patients with atrial fibrillation. The authors cite reasons reminiscent of Sepucha’s conclusions in 2012. Coylewright and Holmes point out that there is limited guidance on navigating SDM for patients with atrial fibrillation at risk for stroke. Specifically, while research consistently shows that “decision aids improve patient outcomes including knowledge, engagement, and satisfaction”, SDM has yet to become an integral part of clinical practice for a variety of reasons, both on the patient side and the clinician side. For example, barriers to use of SDM by physicians include insufficient training in the skillsets necessary to implement SDM, such as “inadequate assessment of patient preferences,” in addition to logistic challenges to implementation, whether at the institutional level, the lack of publicly available decision aids, or the time availability during patient-clinician interactions to thoroughly discuss patient preferences.

Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation presents a particularly challenging case for optimizing treatment, due to low prescription, low adherence due to side effects and frequent testing, as well as increased risk of negative reactions due to polypharmacy. Thomson et al. found that atrial fibrillation patients at risk of stroke may deicide to forgo treatment with anticoagulants to avoid the medications’ adverse effects, with the knowledge that their stroke risk later on increased. However, professional guidelines on treatment of atrial fibrillation promote SDM and use of evidence-based decision tools while recognizing that inviting patients to participate in care decisions can be challenging to physicians.

A recent systematic review, “Availability of Patient Decision Aids for Stroke Prevention in Atrial Fibrillation” by O’Neill and colleagues summarize the current state of decision aids for patients with atrial fibrillation at risk for stroke and their treating physicians. The current landscape of pharmacologic therapy for stroke reduction includes multiple DOACs, implantable LAA closure devices, aspirin, and warfarin – each treatment with benefits and trade-offs that must be considered “in the context of individual values and preferences and willingness to adhere to therapy”. Many of the decision aids in the studies reviewed by O’Neill et al. did not display all therapeutic choices, were delivered to patients primarily by nonphysicians, and were not publicly available.

Depression and CAD
SDM and decision tools pair nicely with assessment of depression in heart disease patients. In a recent paper, “Identifying and Managing Depression in Patients with CAD,” Aimee Salzer Pragle and Susan Salashor discuss the epidemiology and risk factors, clinical presentation, assessment tools, and treatment options for depression in patients with heart disease. In a 2011 review, Christopher Celano and Jeff Huffman estimated that 20-40% of patients with CAD may suffer from depression, and despite the availability of screening tools brief enough for clinical practice (such as the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 or -2), depression often goes unrecognized in cardiac care. Depression in patients with CAD is associated with progression of heart disease, poor quality of life and physical functioning, repeat cardiac events, and 2-2.5 fold increased risk of mortality [link]. Risk factors for depression in patients with CAD include “younger age, female sex, a history of depression, social isolation, previous cardiac events, and diabetes” and depression can increase risk of suicide, homicide, and substance abuse (which can exacerbate cardiac symptoms and promote further degeneration).

Innovative Frameworks – A Segue to Implementing SDM?
From the clinician side, disease-specific evaluation frameworks inclusive of all relevant aspects of a patient’s health provide another avenue towards optimizing patient-clinician communication. For example, in a recent paper, Gorodeski et al. present a multi-domain framework for managing heart failure and the associated questionnaires and tools that go with each task.

Gorodeski image
These tools include the Mini Nutritional Assessment Short Form (MNA-SF), the Mini-Cog and PHQ-2 (Patient Health Questionnaire) for mental and emotional state, gait speed, timed Up and Go test, FRAIL questionnaire, and ADL/IADL discussion for assessing physical function, as well as inquiries to social support at home, adaptable and safe environment plans, access to nutrition and transportation, as well as abilities and support in medication management (Table 1, Gorodeski et al).

 Does your department or institution use shared decision making or decision aids in practice?

 What barriers to implementation do you see in incorporating these tools into everyday patient interactions?

SDM and Decision Aids Resources
The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute hosts an up-to-date A to Z inventory of patient decision aids, and includes tools for angina, atrial fibrillation, CABG and other cardiac procedures, blood pressure medications, peripheral artery disease surgery, type 2 diabetes, depression, kidney disease and dialysis, and many others. Many of the tools geared towards cardiac care were in the form of informative articles for patients to read, or interactive tutorial-style pages for patients. None that I found were visual or brief enough to be used in clinical practice. Additionally, purely text-based “decision aids” are not useful for low-literacy populations, and online-only resources are not easily accessible for patients who are less tech-savvy. However, the Heart to Heart tool developed by the University of North Carolina General Internal Medicine department provides a user-friendly interface, even for the less technologically-savvy patients, that guides the user through several slides on how to join the discussion of their own treatment with their doctor. Similarly, the AHA Rise above Heart Failure initiative has two resources heart failure patients and physicians might find particularly useful: a guide to overcoming barriers to shared-decision making and a list of questions to ask the doctor. If you are a physician, reviewing these materials provides you with the guidance of what questions and topics to address during the clinic visit.

Quick links to select decision aids related to heart disease:

 

Bailey DeBarmore Headshot

Bailey DeBarmore is a cardiovascular epidemiology PhD student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on diabetes, stroke, and heart failure. She tweets @BaileyDeBarmore and blogs at baileydebarmore.com. Find her on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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An Antidote To Factor Xa Inhibitors – Andexanet Alfa

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill

Treatment options for systemic anticoagulation (AC) have grown substantially during the last several years. One of the most common indications for AC is to reduce the risk of embolic stroke secondary to atrial fibrillation (AF). Although there are multiple reasons to anticoagulate, my column today references stroke prevention for AF. The major concern to both patients and clinicians is the risk of significant bleeding or hemorrhage. The ideal anticoagulant would effectively prevent stroke, hopefully at a low risk for bleeding and interact minimally with other agents. If required, the “perfect” agent could be easily reversed. That last caveat to perfection has proven elusive until recently.

In clinical practice, many patients will refuse AC based upon perceptions of death by uncontrollable bleeding. Notwithstanding the sensational television commercials paid for by legal firms waging lawsuits against pharmaceutical manufacturers, the thought of “bleeding out” understandably makes a reluctant patient even more apprehensive to initiate or continue AC. Nowadays, it is quite common to encounter patients who have studied the different drug options. In my experience, a common motive for rejection of AC is the absence of an antidote. Perhaps this can be better expressed in the words of one my patients… “I don’t want to bleed internally and die because they can’t stop the bleeding …”

Historically, warfarin (e.g. Coumadin) a Vitamin-K antagonist was the most commonly used agent. Widely available, the principal agent used to reverse warfarin effect is Vitamin-K itself. In 2010, the Federal Drug Administration approved Dabigatran, a direct thrombin inhibitor, as an option for stroke prevention for non-valvular AF. This agent became a popular alternative to warfarin. Strengthening its popularity, the ability to reverse and nullify its clinical effects became a reality. In the past few years, idarucizumab was developed as an antidote to dabigatran.

Further research lead to the development of Factor Xa inhibitors: rivaroxaban (Xarelto), Apibixan (Eliquis), and Edoxaban (Savaysa). Factor Xa is an important step in the coagulation cascade. In fact, it is at the convergence of both intrinsic and extrinsic pathways prior to the production of thrombin1,2. Although these AC drugs share desirable clinical characteristics such as convenient dosing, the lack of any significant drug-drug interactions, this class of drugs was saddled with the potential shortcoming of being available clinically without a means to reliably counter the effects.

Andexanet Alfa has been undergoing clinical studies evaluating its role a reversal agent to the class of Factor Xa class inhibitors. Simplistically, this antidote functions as a decoy receptor3. Given the favorable data, the FDA very recently approved its use4. The presence of such an antidote has potentially broad implications: giving patients and practitioners a certain level of comfort to prescribe a novel anticoagulant knowing there exists treatment means to stop hemorrhage related to AC therapy. How much Andexanet’s presence will be able to convince an apprehensive patient to start AC remains to be seen.

References

  1. Ansell J. Factor Xa or thrombin: is factor Xa a better target? J Thromb Haemost. 2007;5 Suppl 1:60-4
  2. Perzborn E, Roehrig S, Straub A, Kubitza D, Misselwitz F. The discovery and development of rivaroxaban, an oral, direct factor Xa inhibitor. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2011;10:61-75
  3. Connolly SJ1, Milling TJ Jr, Eikelboom JW, Gibson CM, Curnutte JT, Gold A, Bronson MD, Lu G1, Conley PB1, Verhamme P1, Schmidt J, Middeldorp S1, Cohen AT, Beyer-Westendorf J, Albaladejo P, Lopez-Sendon J1, Goodman S, Leeds J, Wiens BL, Siegal DM, Zotova E, Meeks B, Nakamya J, Lim WT, Crowther M; ANNEXA-4 Investigators. Andexanet Alfa for Acute Major Bleeding Associated with Factor Xa Inhibitors.N Engl J Med. 2016;375:1131-41 4.https://www.thepharmaletter.com/article/fda-approves-andexxa-first-antidote-for-the-reversal-o f-factor-xa-inhibitors

Christian Perzanowski Headshot

Christian Perzanowski is an electrophysiologist in Tampa, FL. His main interests are in ablation techniques for atrial fibrillation and device therapy for congestive heart failure. He reports no conflicts of interests.

Crabtree, NC

Crabtree, NC (1/18 CP)

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Options To Rat Poison – Other Mousetraps?

“The policy of being too cautious is the greatest risk of all.” Jawaharlal Nehru

Of all the potential complications associated with atrial fibrillation (AF), stroke is the most feared. Attempting to predict a stroke has proven to be a daunting task. The mechanism by which AF leads to a stroke is undoubtedly due to the formation of a thrombus within the left atrium, in particular the left atrial appendage (LAA). The latter structure serves to enhance the atrial contribution to ventricular diastolic filling. When AF sets in, effective atrial contractions are greatly minimized, and blood can become stagnant within the LAA and form a thrombus. Should parts of the thrombus embolize, a stroke can result. Such cerebrovascular events can be devastating.

My thoughts today will focus not on the symptoms caused by AF, and their treatments but to summarize medical options in stroke prevention. The mainstay of stroke prevention with this arrhythmia is the use of an anticoagulant. For many years, warfarin was the only anticoagulant available. Although this agent can be a forgiving drug if a dose is missed, it can also be the most fickle. Not uncommonly, patients often perceive this agent to be “rat poison.” Historically, this was its previous use. The drug’s notoriety can be appreciated by the numerous interactions with certain foods (particularly ingredients which have a high content of vitamin K which inhibit its actions), or with other medications such as antibiotics. Additionally, excessive anticoagulation may result with ceratin cardiac medications such as the widely used antiarrhythmic amiodarone. Unfortunately, when the anticoagulant level, colloquially known as the INR, increases above the desired clinical range, bleeding may occur1. Frequent, at least monthly office monitoring is recommended. As such, the quality of life may be impacted for many patients.

In my practice, I have encountered numerous patients that were very determined to avoid warfarin despite facing a risk of stroke. The anticoagulation landscape changed with the introduction of the “novel oral anticoagulants” (NOACs) which exert their effects at different levels of the coagulation cascade. The development of the direct thrombin inhibitor dabigatran (marketed as Pradaxa) was a welcome option to warfarin. However, true to the nature of the class of drugs with which it belongs to, bleeding complications still occur. Since its approval approximately seven years ago, dabigatran is no longer the only NOAC2. The last several years saw the emergence of the factor Xa inhibitors rivaroxaban (Xarelto), apibixan (Eliquis) and most recently edoxoban (Savaysa)3-5.

With that being said, the clinical studies used to obtain FDA approval for use in the United States concluded that collectively these agents have relatively low rates of bleeding. However, the post-marketing experience may be very different than what is observed in the safe confines of a clinical trial. It is vital that there exists medically equivalent options to prevent an AF-related stroke. In general, The NOACs have the clinical advantage of not commonly interacting with other medications, and typically do not require any change in dietary habits or such constraints. Frequent monitoring is not universally required, and other than adjusting for renal function, dosing is often straightforward. With the exception of dabigatran, the other NOACs do not have any readily available reversal agent to counter an acute bleeding event or hemorrhage. This is potentially a serious limitation, and a clinically relevant factor which must be discussed with patients when counseling them on anticoagulation. The ideal “drug” would be completely effective at preventing an atrial thrombus from occurring, and yet lead to no bleeding6. Neither of those objectives are tangible options yet. At the end of the day, both the clinician and patient need to decide which medicine is most likely to be protective and be an acceptable risk.
 
References

  1. Seet RC, Rabinstein AA, Christianson TJ, Petty GW, Brown RD. Bleeding complications associated with warfarin treatment in ischemic stroke patients with atrial fibrillation: a population-based cohort study. J Stroke Cerebrovasc Dis. 2013;22:561-9
  2. Larsen TB, Rasmussen LH, Skjøth F, Due KM, Callréus T, Rosenzweig M, Lip GY. Efficacy and safety of dabigatran etexilate and warfarin in “real-world” patients with atrial fibrillation: a prospective nationwide cohort study. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013;61:2264-73
  3. Patel MR, Mahaffey KW, Garg J, Pan G, Singer DE, Hacke W, Breithardt G, Halperin JL, Hankey GJ, Piccini JP, Becker RC, Nessel CC, Paolini JF, Berkowitz SD, Fox KA, Califf RM; ROCKET AF Investigators. Rivaroxaban versus warfarin in nonvalvular atrial fibrillation. N Engl J Med. 2011;365(10):883-91
  4. Granger CB, Alexander JH, McMurray JJ, Lopes RD, Hylek EM, Hanna M, Al-Khalidi HR, Ansell J, Atar D, Avezum A, Bahit MC, Diaz R, Easton JD, Ezekowitz JA, Flaker G, Garcia D, Geraldes M, Gersh BJ, Golitsyn S, Goto S, Hermosillo AG, Hohnloser SH, Horowitz J, Mohan P, Jansky P, Lewis BS, Lopez-Sendon JL, Pais P, Parkhomenko A, Verheugt FW, Zhu J, Wallentin L; ARISTOTLE Committees and Investigators. Apixaban versus warfarin in patients with atrial fibrillation. N Engl J Med. 2011;365:981-92
  5. Giugliano RP, Ruff CT, Braunwald E, Murphy SA, Wiviott SD, Halperin JL, Waldo AL, Ezekowitz MD, Weitz JI, Špinar J, Ruzyllo W, Ruda M, Koretsune Y, Betcher J, Shi M, Grip LT, Patel SP, Patel I, Hanyok JJ, Mercuri M, Antman EM; ENGAGE AF-TIMI 48 Investigators. Edoxaban versus warfarin in patients with atrial fibrillation. N Engl J Med. 2013;369:2093-104
  6. Deshpande CG1, Kogut S, Laforge R, Willey C. Impact of medication adherence on risk of ischemic stroke, major bleeding, and deep vein thrombosis in atrial fibrillation patients using novel oral anticoagulants. Curr Med Res Opin. 2018 Jan 16:1-17. doi: 10.1080/03007995.2018.1428543. [Epub ahead of print]

Christian Perzanowski Headshot

Christian Perzanowski is an electrophysiologist in Tampa, FL. His main interests are in ablation techniques for atrial fibrillation and device therapy for congestive heart failure.

Apollo beach fl

Apollo Beach, FL 01/18 CP.

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Killing Cardiac Cells

chambers of the heart imageI was in the mall one day and the saleswoman started talking about her health issues. For starters, I am not sure why she entrusted me with this information, but okay. So why is that conversation interesting enough to write about? Well, the lady was 20 years of age and she had undergone several cardiovascular challenges, including a cardiac ablation. I had heard of other people having this procedure done but I had not thought much about it (I looked it up but not in much detail), until I met this young lady. So, I started wondering:

  1. What is the underlying pathology that causes one to need to have the procedure?
  2. What is the average age of patients undergoing the procedure?
  3. What is cardiac ablation?
  4. How commonly is this procedure done?

Cardiac ablation is the use of catheters to target and kill off specific cells within the heart, generally in the atrium. The adult mammalian myocardium has a negligible ability to regenerate once damage has occurred. Thus, rather than undergoing cardiomyogenesis (the formation of myocardium/heart muscles), fibrous tissue is instead formed. This phenomenon raised more questions for me, so I did literature searches…then more literature searches…then read more literature. The more I read, the more I felt I needed to read to understand why cardiologist would choose this procedure. Following a myocardial infarction (heart attack) a significant number of cardiomyocytes die leading to an enhanced inflammatory reaction. This cardiac event results in dead myocardial tissue being replaced with interstitial and perivascular collagen deposition. The presence of fibrosis can lead to pressure overload, increased blood pressure or potentially aortic stenosis. However, a patient that has suffered from myocardial infarction would not be a good candidate for cardiac ablation. So, who would be a good fit to undergo such a procedure? Usually it is a patient exhibiting cardiac arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation (AF or AFib), supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), and Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome (WPW). Because this subject is enormous, I will only focus on AF due to the fact that it is the most common cause of arrhythmias treated with catheter ablation.

Pathophysiology of Atrial Fibrillation
AF is characterized by an abnormal heartbeat (quivering or irregular heartbeat) that causes the heart to ineffectively move blood into the ventricles. The onset of AF could be due to family history (genetics), but controllable risk factors are hypertension and valvular heart disease. The cardiovascular consequence of AF includes: 

  1. Coronary artery disease
  2. Mitral stenosis
  3. Mitral regurgitation
  4. Left atrial enlargement
  5. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
  6. Congenital Heart Disease
  7. Cerebrovascular Accident

AF is considered the most common arrhythmic disease and it affects about 4% of the population. The prevalence of AF increase with age (<0.2% under 50 year of age (yoa), 4% are 60-70 yoa, and ~15% >80 yoa), with patients suffering from it has an average age between 75-85 yoa. In the U.S., there was a significant number of deaths (>200,000) resulting from AF in 2015, which is reason enough to pursue aggressive therapies to control this heart rhythm disorder.

Treatment
The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) released guidelines that summarized the current evidence that is available to physicians in selecting the best strategy for managing diseases, taking into consideration the risk-benefit ratio of diagnosis and therapeutic means. The recommended guidelines has shifted to focus on the identification of ‘truly low-risk’ patients (<65 with AF alone that does not need antithrombotic therapy) rather than ‘high-risk’ patients. Based on the earlier guidelines for treating AF, a patient of age >20 would not be considered for ablation therapy, so I wondered…what are the alternative treatments? I found they can either be drugs, such as: 1) Novel oral anticoagulants (blood thinners) fall into two categories (Oral direct factor Xa inhibitors or Oral direct thrombin) and 2) Left atrial ablation—introduced by American College of Cardiology Foundation, American Heart Association, and the Heart Rhythm Society.

To read more about these treatment, please be directed to European Heart Journal for the ESC Guidelines. Here I will focus on cardiac ablation.

Cardiac Ablation
Cardiac ablationThe normal mammalian heart is composed of tight layers of myocytes that are separated by small clefts creating a matrix network. The cardiac matrix network is divided into three constituents. The matrix network is collagen-based and serves as a scaffold for various components of the cell as well as transmission of contractive forces that keep the cells in correct timing with neighboring cells. When the heart undergoes damage, the resulting fibrosis disrupts the coordination of this myocardial excitation-contraction leading to hypertension. Subsequently, loss of collagen impair transduction, which causes the uncoordinated contraction of the cardiac muscle bundles (the quivering or fluttering that is felt with AF) or generation of re-entry circuits (irregular heartbeat).

The ablation process will depend on the patient medical condition, past cardiac history, and the ablation technique chosen. There are several types of catheter ablation

a) Radiofrequency ablation-use radiofrequency generators to deliver a current, in a point by point fashion around the pulmonary vein, creating a circular scar around each vein.

b) Cryoablation—uses a single catheter that travels through the femoral vein in the groin to the left atrium. The balloon end (halo) of the catheter has a refrigerant that freezes the tissue it comes in contact with creating a scar.

c) Surgical ablation—generally used when open heart surgery is being conducted.
          i. Mini Maze-use 3-5 incisions on the front and side of the chest to insert the catheter to freeze/heat cardiomyocytes
          ii. Convergent—uses both surgical and catheter based techniques.

Catheter ablation is generally an outpatient procedure, but it should not be taken lightly. As with most consumers, cost comes to mind. How can cardiologist/electrophysiologist conduct such a procedure in so short of a time and charge so much? The answer is simple. The technology used in ablation is extensive; mapping equipment, cardioverter/defibrillator and catheter, recording apparatus, stimulators, and junction boxes. I am overwhelmed just thinking about it all!

Wrap it up…
Cardiovascular disease is a consequence of a lot of factors. Understanding the various procedures that the cardiologists are explaining can be daunting. Even with the expansive literature that is available it is difficult to determine how a procedure will work for each patient, especially with regard to the side effects. For example, in a 2010 study for rhythmic control (294 patients), there was no significant difference between patients that received the catheter ablation compared to those taking antiarrhythmic drugs as a first line of intervention. Catheter ablation is said to be more effective than antiarrhythmic drugs, but the recurrence of AF is significant during long term follow up. Early recurrence of AF is the best predictor of whether one will have a recurrence later. In an observational study conducted at high volume clinics, there was a 39% hospitalization rate post catheter ablation. However, catheter ablation has been deemed reasonable for first line of therapy for AF when patients have paroxysmal AF and low risk for procedures with complications; which is interesting since the majority of studies are inherently biased toward the experienced centers. It is reasonable to speculate that people, such as the saleswoman in the mall, who visit small low volume clinics, contribute to increased rates of hospitalization rates.

I am, furthermore interested in knowing whether there is a decrease in cardiac output post catheter ablation. If this procedure is killing off specific cells in the heart and leaving scar tissue, what are the downstream effects of this cardiac cell death? Especially in patients that have repeated catheter ablations. If there is a decrease in cardiac output, and the kidney filters 20% of the cardiac output daily, then what effect does cardiac ablation have on the renal system? Could this procedure enhance renal failure? I have had conversations with other people who have had cardiac ablations that later suffered from renal failure necessitating dialysis. Since all conditions are patient specific, there is no evidence that catheter ablation is connected to renal failure to my knowledge, but I wonder if anyone else had that observation.

To sum up the conversation I had with the young lady in the mall. She started her cardiac journey at an early age. She has gone through oral anticoagulant drugs, catheter ablation, and open-heart surgery. By the age of 20, that is a lot for one to have gone through. She was in such distress about having to undergo yet another catheter ablation that she was seeking answers to help her understand what she was going through and how to make informed decisions about her care. How can patients be better educated on what is going on with their bodies when visiting medical professionals? People are told to take responsibility for their care, but what if they do not understand enough to know what to ask?

Anberitha Matthews, PhD is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis TN. She is living a dream by researching vascular injury as it pertains to oxidative stress, volunteers with the Mississippi State University Alumni Association, serves as Chapter President and does consulting work with regard to scientific editing.