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J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol. 2009 Sep;20(9):1014-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-8167.2009.01493.x. Epub 2009 May 20.

Complications of atrial fibrillation ablation in a high-volume center in 1,000 procedures: still cause for concern?

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Second Cardiology Department, University of Athens, Attikon University Hospital, Athens, Greece.



Catheter ablation is potentially curative treatment for atrial fibrillation (AF). However, complications are more frequent and more severe compared with other ablation procedures. We investigated the complication rate in 1,000 AF ablation procedures in a high-volume center and examined possible risk factors.


One thousand consecutive circumferential pulmonary vein radiofrequency ablations were performed for symptomatic, drug-refractory AF. Major complications were defined as the ones that were life threatening, caused permanent harm, and required intervention or prolonged hospitalization. Thirty-nine (3.9%) major periprocedural complications were observed. There was no death immediately associated with the procedure. However, there were 2 deaths (0.2%) of unclear cause, 14 days and 4 weeks after ablation. The most common complications were tamponade (1.3%), treated mainly by percutaneous drainage, and vascular complications (1.1%). There were also 4 thromboembolic events (0.4%): 3 nonfatal strokes and one transient ischemic attack. Importantly, 2 cases (0.2%) of atrial-esophageal fistula and 2 cases (0.2%) of endocarditis were observed. Factors associated with an increased complication risk were age > or = 75 years (hazard ratio 3.977, P = 0.022) and congestive heart failure (hazard ratio 5.174, P = 0.001).


AF ablation still has a considerable number of major complications that may be life threatening or may lead to severe residues. Atrial-esophageal fistula is still observed despite continuous systematic methods to prevent it. Stroke, tamponade, and vascular complications are the most frequent major complications. However, in most patients treatment can be conservative and results in complete recovery. Advanced age and congestive heart failure seem to be associated with an increased risk of complications.

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