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 FAQs A-Fib Ablations: Radiation Risks 

Catheter Ablation

Catheter Ablation

7. “How dangerous is the fluoroscopy radiation during an ablation? I know I need a Pulmonary Vein Ablation (Isolation) procedure to stop my A-Fib. A-Fib destroys my life. I can’t work or exercise, and live in fear of the next attack. Antiarrhythmic meds cause me bad side effects. But I’m worried about being exposed to radiation during the ablation.”

Back in 2003, exposure to radioactivity during an ablation was a legitimate concern; a typical A-Fib ablation resulted in around 50 minutes of fluoroscopy time.

Today, many centers use much less or no fluoroscopy at all. Instead many use 3D non-fluoroscopy (no radiation) imaging techniques such as Intracardiac Echocardiography (ICE) and/or Magnetic Resonant Imaging (MRI). Check with your A-Fib center as to how much radiation their typical A-Fib ablation patient is exposed to, then compare it to the following points of reference to determine if you should be concerned.

Average Background Radiation/year 2.4 mSv
Chest X-Ray Radiation 0.02-0.2 mSv
Full-mouth Dental X-Ray 0.03-0.2 mSv
Mammogram 0.7 mSv
Spinal X-Ray Radiation 1.5 mSv
Heart CT Scan Radiation (100-600 Chest X-rays) 12.0 mSv
25.5 min. fluoroscopy during an A-Fib Ablation 15.2 mSv

But bear in mind, even a one hour-long exposure to fluoroscopy is a relatively small risk compared to the risks of being in A-Fib, taking anti-arrhythmic meds, and/or Maze surgery.

Protecting Yourself from Radiation Damage

You can take safeguards before and after your ablation to help protect yourself from radiation damage. Since much of the cancer-causing damage from ionizing radiation is from hydroxyl free radicals, it’s recommended to take antioxidant supplements to neutralize them. A typical plan is to take the following natural supplements every six hours for at least 24 hours before and after your radiation exposure. These are available without a prescription from health food stores. But check with your doctor before taking any supplements.

1.  Vitamin C 1000 mg
2.  Lipoic Acid 400 mg
3.  N-Acetyl Cysteine 200 mg
4.  Melatonin 3 mg

Dr. Leo Galland, MD of the Foundation for Integrated Medicine suggests two additional supplements to reduce the risks of radiation exposure:

• Egb 761 (Tebonin), a Ginkgo extract to be taken a week after being exposed to imaging radiation, 120 mg daily. “Reduced the damaging effects of radiation on chromosomes—and the benefits persisted for several months after workers stopped taking it.”

• The flavonoid Hesperidin, a type of antioxidant, 250 mg about one hour before testing. “In human tests…it reduced radiation-induced damage by about one third.”

Editor’s comment: The nuclear theory that any level of radiation is cumulatively damaging may not be valid (the “Linear No Threshold” theory). The levels of radiation received during a typical catheter ablation may not be dangerous, but may even be healthful. See
Thanks to Stephanie Fagan for this question.

¤  Macle, L et al. “Radiation Exposure During Radiofrequency Catheter Ablation for Atrial Fibrillation.” Pacing and Clinical Electrophysiology, March 28, 2003. Volume 26, Issue 1p2, Pages 288-291.
¤  Efstathopoulos et al. “Patient and staff radiation dosimetry during cardiac electrophysiology studies and catheter ablation procedures: a comprehensive analysis.” Europace (The European Society of Cardiology), 2006 8(6): 443-448; doi:10.1093/europace/eul041
¤ Galland, Leo. Guard Against Radiation Danger. Bottom Line/Health, May 2015, p. 9.

Return to FAQ Catheter Ablations

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