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Pacemakers found to help heart failure patients

A new study shows pacemakers can help some patients with heart failure  

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A pacemaker device could help up to half of all heart failure patients live a more active life, researchers told the American College of Cardiology Tuesday.

"The device was shown to markedly improve patient's quality of life and their functional capacity, and by functional capacity I mean that they were able to exercise longer and they were able to perform more of their activities of daily living," said lead researcher Dr. William Abraham of the University of Kentucky.

Heart failure is the most rapidly growing form of heart disease in the United States. Some 5 million people have it and as many as 700,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

When medications and surgeries and procedures like angioplasty no longer work, the only other course of action has been a heart transplant. But results from a study on 500 patients indicate pacemakers may offer another treatment option.

Nurse Donna Lavai was one of the study subjects to benefit from the pacemaker. A heart failure patient for more than a decade, Lavai had trouble walking down the hospital halls to complete her rounds.

"I was so out of breath," she said. " I would walk down the halls and my legs were like rubber."

Her condition was so debilitating, she had to use a wheelchair on several nights.

That changed within two weeks of doctors activating her pacemaker.

"I've been able to walk up and down the halls without any trouble," she said.

Other patients saw similar results.

"These types of dramatic changes are absolutely typical for what we've seen," said Abraham. "It's literally like throwing a light switch."

Other doctors who participated in the research agreed. "I'm very excited," said Dr. Angel Leon, a doctor at Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta. "When I first heard about this development in the first few patients in which it was done, I didn't believe it in the least."

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 heart failure patients with a "conduction delay" -- in essence, a faulty electrical system in the heart.

Although there's no evidence the pacemaker helps patients live longer, doctors said some patients were able to come off the transplant waiting list and return to a fairly normal life. In addition, patients with a pacemaker spent fewer days in the hospital.

Several manufacturers expect their pacemaker devices to win marketing approval for heart failure patients by the end of the year.

New pacemaker may revolutionize heart failure treatment for some
February 15, 2000
Study suggests inexpensive drug cuts heart-failure deaths by one-third
July 19, 1997
Study: Heart-burning operation effective for correcting arrhythmia
January 18, 1999
Doctor: Security devices may affect pacemaker beat
September 24, 1998

U.S. Food and Drug Administration
American Heart Association - Pacemakers
American College of Cardiology
U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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