New Weapon Against Arrhythmias

Implantable cardioverter defibrillators benefit both men and women

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THURSDAY, Nov. 11, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Women, as well as men, may benefit from implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs), says a study by researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago.

ICDs help prevent death from heart arrhythmias, which are changes in the normal sequence of electrical impulses that control heart rhythm. Arrhythmias can cause abnormally fast or slow or irregular heart rhythms.

The study of 458 people with non-ischemic cardiomyopathy found a significant reduction in arrhythmic death in both male and female patients who received an ICD. Death from all causes declined by 40 percent among men who received an ICD, while there was no decline in death from all causes among women who received an ICD.

But the study authors said this lack of reduction among women was the result of an increase in non-cardiovascular causes of death such as cancer, infection and stroke.

"None of these appeared to be a complication of defibrillator placement. It appears to be a statistical aberration, a matter of bad luck in a small number of patients," Dr. Alan Kadish, a professor of medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern, said in a prepared statement.

The study concluded that ICDs in women did prevent death from arrhythmias and that women with cardiomyopathy should be offered ICDs to prevent death from arrhythmias.

Cardiomyopathy is a disease that causes the heart to become larger and weaker. The heart loses its ability to pump blood and heart rhythm can be disrupted. Cardiomyopathy can be caused by blocked blood vessels (ischemic cardiomyopathy) or by heredity, infections, alcohol abuse, toxins and other medical problems.

"We need more work to prove that [arrhythmia] prevention with ICD placement is as beneficial in women as men. But we suspect that it is," Kadish said.

The study was presented this week at the American Heart Association's scientific sessions in New Orleans.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about arrhythmias.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Nov. 9, 2004

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