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New pacemaker may revolutionize heart treatment

February 15, 2000
Web posted at: 12:56 p.m. EST (1756 GMT)

(CNN) -- Researchers say an experimental therapy using a new kind of pacemaker may be most promising treatment for heart failure since transplants were introduced 30 years ago.

The new pacemaker uses three wires, or leads, which are threaded into both sides of the heart to help it pump more efficiently. Researchers say it could help about half of all heart failure patients.

This week is National Heart Failure Awareness Week. Four and a half million Americans suffer from the condition, which is the only heart condition on the increase. Until now, the only two treatments for the condition were medication or heart transplant.

 VIDEO
VideoCNN's Rhonda Rowland reports on a new pacemaker for patients with failing hearts.
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Although studies are still underway, patients and doctors say people previously bedridden and in wheel chairs are able to return to normal activities because of this new pacemaker treatment. And the cost of this new therapy is equivalent to two hospitalizations.

"I'm very excited," said Dr. Angel Leon of Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta. "When I first heard about it, this development, in the first few patients in which it was done, I didn't believe it in the least bit."

Researchers said the new pacemaker could help people whose hearts suffer from a conduction delay, or faulty electrical system. That's about half of all heart failure patients.

"We're trying to find out if taking these patients who have heart failure who feel poorly, who are not active will get better when we reverse that conduction delay," Leon said.

It is unlikely this type of pacemaker will cure heart failure, and it is too early to predict if it will be an alternative to heart transplants or make transplants unnecessary. But the pacemakers appear to be dramatically improving patients' quality of life.

The improvements are so dramatic three pacemaker manufacturers are racing to have similar devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

"The stakes are huge here, and the manufacturers of these devices are doing everything they can to get their study going, to get patients enrolled and to try to get the answer as quickly as possible," Leon said.



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RELATED SITES:
Crawford Long Hospital
American Heart Association National Center


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