Treating a rapid heart beat by burning away small amounts of heart tissue is as safe for babies as it is for older children, according to new research. The radiofrequency catheter ablation (RFCA) treatment involves threading a catheter - with an electrode at its tip - into the area of the heart which is struggling with an uncontrolled heartbeat, known as tachycardia.
A mild painless burst of radiofrequency energy, similar to microwave heat, is used to destroy about 20% of heart muscle. A study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found the procedure was 90% effective in treating the condition.
The report's author Dr Andrew Blaufox, professor of paediatric cardiology at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, said: "The findings hold great significance for both patients and physicians. "Where you have infants with serious arrhythmias, some clinical problems, and who need multiple drugs to control their heart rhythms, ablation is a real alternative."
The research team compared 137 babies aged two weeks to 18 months, who underwent the procedure, with 5,960 patients aged 19 months to 21 years, who had RFCA. Among the infants in the study, 36% had congenital heart defects, compared with 11% of the older patients and 33% underwent RFCA for life-threatening heart rhythms, against 7.7% in the older group.
The effectiveness of RFCA favoured older patients, 90%, against 87.6% in babies.A total of 12 major and minor complications occurred in the infant group, including one death. Dr Blaufox said success of RFCA was unrelated to a patient's weight or age or whether or not the patient had a heart defect.
He said: "However, more experienced physicians are more likely to perform successful procedures in infants than those with less experience."