Defibrillators Help Newly Diagnosed Heart Patients

Study suggests Medicare guidelines may need to be revised for implanted devices

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THURSDAY, May 5, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Implantable cardiac defibrillators can help protect people recently diagnosed with weak hearts unrelated to coronary artery disease just as much as they help patients with longer-term, established disease, researchers report.

The results suggest that Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) guidelines issued last year may not reliably identify patients at risk for sudden heart attack. Those guidelines currently allow implantable defibrillators for people diagnosed with weakened hearts -- non-ischemic cardiomyopathy (NICMP) -- for more than nine months.

"Our findings suggest that the CMS guidelines may not reliably discriminate patients at high risk for sudden cardiac arrest. This study sheds new light on the potential benefits of ICDs for patients who have been diagnosed with weak hearts for less than nine months," lead investigator Dr. Kevin Makati, a cardiologist at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston, said in a prepared statement.

His team presented the findings Thursday at the Heart Rhythm Society's annual scientific sessions in New Orleans.

Makati and his colleagues evaluated 133 NICMP patients: 76 of them had been diagnosed nine or more months before the study, while 57 had been diagnosed within the previous nine months.

During a follow-up of 27 months, the team found no difference between the two groups in the occurrence of treated and fatal ventricular arrhythmias, a dangerous form of irregular heart rhythm.

"This study shows a clear benefit of ICDs for patients with cardiomyopathy, irrespective of when they were diagnosed. CMS may want to revisit the coverage criteria for these patients in light of these findings," Dr. Stephen C. Hammill, Heart Rhythm Society president, said in a prepared statement.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about ICDs.

SOURCE: Heart Rhythm Society, news release, May 5, 2005

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