DALLAS, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- While Botox is known for smoothing facial wrinkles, doctors found in a small study that injecting it into fat pads surrounding the hearts of patients after bypass surgery helped to prevent irregular heart rhythms.
Atrial fibrillation, a quivering or irregular heartbeat, can lead to other heart problems, including blood clots, stroke and heart failure. Botox, a byproduct of the botulinum toxin produced by the Clostridium botulinum bacterium, blocks nerve signals telling muscles to contract when injected into muscles in small amounts.
The just-published research was previewed at the Heart Rhythm Society's annual meeting in May, with researchers discussing the steps to be taken for botox to become a standard part of open heart surgeries.
"About a third of all patients undergoing bypass surgery will develop atrial fibrillation, putting them at higher risk for cardiovascular complications," said Dr. Jonathan S. Steinberg, M.D., an adjunct professor of medicine at the University of Rochester, in a press release. "Atrial fibrillation is also always associated with lengthened hospitalization and that means increased healthcare costs."
Researchers at two hospitals in Russia enrolled 60 patients in the study, with half receiving injections of Botox in the four fat pads surrounding the heart and the other half receiving saline. Neither patients nor doctors were aware which was in the injections.
During the first 30 days after surgery, 7 percent of patients given Botox developed atrial fibrillation, while 30 percent of the patients given saline developed the condition. A year after surgery, none of the patients injected with Botox had atrial fibrillation, compared to 27 percent of patients who were injected with saline.
Although no adverse symptoms were seen in patients given Botox, researchers said larger studies need to be done on the efficacy and safety of using it. If successful, however, they said patients undergoing heart valve repair or replacement could be candidates for Botox to prevent irregular heartbeat.
"In the near future, botox injections may become the standard of care for heart bypass and valve patients, but we're not quite there yet," Steinberg said.