The disorder is a common form of irregular heartbeat. Electrical signals become erratic, so instead of beating regularly, the upper chambers of the heart quiver. This can affect blood flow, possibly resulting in strokes and heart failure.
Catheter ablation uses heat to destroy a bit of muscle around certain veins to prevent the wild impulses.
Medications can also help maintain a steady rhythm. But new research, headed up by Loyola University Medical Center, finds those who had the procedure did much better a year later compared to those on medication.
"Drugs have been the mainstay for a long time," said Loyola cardiologist Dr. David Wilber. "They've not been effective. We now have something that's very clearly and very objectively demonstrated to be far more effective, not only in controlling atrial fibrillation and the symptoms, but improving quality of life."
Researchers say results of the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association were so convincing the trial was stopped early.
The research was funded by the company which makes the catheters used in the study.