Never trust your heart to the Network News

Did you happen to see NBC’s The Today Show segment concerning catheter ablation of atrial fibrillation? It looked all snazzy and cool, and the patient was cured!

Or was she? As will often happen, TV news manipulated the presentation for maximum effect. In other words, they lied.

You see, there are different types of atrial fibrillation (A-Fib; or AF).You can also have Atrial Flutter, which is what I have. Flutter responds much better to an ablation procedure. The medical literature reports that Flutter patients have better success rates – Paroxysmal AF (Flutter) patients can have a successful ablation 38% to 78% of the time, with most programs reporting a success rate of 60% or higher. (The awesome Dr. Wes has the numbers). For persistent AF (A-Fib), the numbers are lower: 22% to 45%; most centers reporting 30% or less.

Bummer! However, there was NBC’s “expert”,  Dr. Nancy Snyderman, standing there telling us how great this new technology was.  Nancy must not have read the Medicare report that said more research was needed to see how effective it was in the Medicare-age population.

Also, an ablation is a two- step process. Once the catheter is in, the first thing doctors do is stimulate the heart to find the source of the A-Fib or Flutter. Once that is done, then you use the catheter to deaden the source and prevent the irregular heartbeats from happening again. Yet there was Dr. Snyderman, saying that the procedure was a success before the mapping procedure had even been completed.

Here’s the bottom line: Medical advances are the result of a lot of work and slow, steady progress. unfortunately, people want results now.  It doesn’t always work that way… in fact, it rarely works that way.

Remember, the public relations department is trying to sell you something, and they usually don’t let a little thing like science get in the way. A few weeks ago an article appeared that said that pomegranates could help reduce breast cancer. Adding pomegranates to your diet would help you avoid that dreaded disease.

But what they didn’t say was located further down in the story:

“It’s not clear that these levels could be achieved in animals or humans because the (compounds) are not well absorbed into blood when provided in the diet.”

Say what? This only works in a test tube? It hasn’t been tested in animals or humans? Obviously someone is trying to sell pomegranates.

TV based health reporting is usually limited to one 5 minute segment per newscast and is almost always upbeat. (This is a reason why Congenital Heart Defects are rarely covered by TV news; the issue is much too complicated cover in 300 seconds.) So before you get too excited about the latest “We’ve found the cure for cancer!” story being broadcast on the six o’clock news, take a deep breath. Do some research.  Find out the advantages and disadvantages of the new treatment. If it’s the real thing, it will still be there after you’ve taken the time to research it.

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