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A technique that uses radio waves to correct heart rhythm problems experienced by an estimated 750,000 Americans is a safe and highly effective alternative to surgery, two studies concluded Wednesday.

The procedure, which uses heat generated by radio frequency energy to remove tissue in the heart, is "without question, by far the most major advance" to come along in the treatment of tachycardia, said Dr. Fred Morady of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor.Tachycardia is a common condition in which the heart suddenly starts racing at well over the usual rate of between 60 and 100 beats per minute. It frequently shows up among people in their teens, 20s and 30s.

In the past, the condition usually was treated either with prolonged use of medications or open heart surgery to remove muscle tissue forming an extra, problem-causing electrical pathway in the heart.

The new technique not only is a more effective form of treatment, but it can be done under local anesthesia and with a significantly lower risk of adverse side effects, said Morady, who co-authored one of two reports published in The New England Journal of Medicine.