Patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) have better mental health outcomes when treated with a technique known as catheter ablation, rather than traditional drug therapy, a new study has found.

According to the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s (RMH) Director of Heart Rhythm Services, Professor Jon Kalman AO, up to one third of people who live with AF suffer severe mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

And while catheter ablation – a procedure which involves freezing areas of the heart responsible for arrhythmia – is fast becoming the superior treatment for the physical symptoms of AF, the impact on mental health hasn’t been confirmed until now.

The study, led by Prof Kalman, looked at whether catheter ablation could not only treat AF but improve patients’ mental health too – giving them an overall better quality of life.

Prof Kalman said the results, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) this week, were overwhelmingly positive.

“It has been shown that physical illness has a major impact on a patient’s mental health, and we’ve demonstrated this in patients with AF,” Prof Kalman said.

“But what we’ve now shown is that catheter ablation helps reduce these impacts to mental health. It helps give patients their life back.”

Prof Kalman added that mental health was often overlooked by doctors and cardiologists.

“The physical symptoms and the mental health symptoms are intricately related,” he said.

“For AF, this has not previously been well-documented and therefore not considered when it comes to treatment.”

Twenty-five percent of adults over the age of 40 years will develop AF which is associated with stroke and heart failure. 

It causes the heart to beat irregularly, often in a fast or erratic way.

Prof Kalman said the study would inform the latest iteration of the international guidelines for catheter ablation in AF patients – considered the gold standard – which he is currently co-chairing with colleagues from Europe, Asia and North America.

The randomised AF study ran from 2018 to 2021 and involved 120 patients.

Mobile Stroke Unit with Ambulance Victoria paramedic and the RMH Stroke team
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