FAQs: Does Ablation Treat Symptoms or “Cure” Atrial Fibrillation?

Catheter Ablation

FAQs A-Fib Ablations: Is it a Cure?

“I’ve read that an ablation only treats A-Fib symptoms, that it isn’t a “cure.” If I take meds like flecainide which stop all A-Fib symptoms and have no significant side effects, isn’t that a ‘cure?’”

A successful catheter ablation doesn’t just treat A-Fib symptoms, it physically changes your heart.

Isolates PVs: An ablation closes off the openings around your pulmonary veins (PVs) so A-Fib signals from the Pulmonary Veins (PVs) can no longer get into your heart. It electrically ‘isolates’ your PVs. If successful and permanent, you should be protected from developing A-Fib that originates from your PVs (where most A-Fib originates).

Recurrence Rates: Older research showed that recurrence of A-Fib after an ablation occurred at a 7% rate out to five years. But this was before the use of the newer techniques of Contact Force Sensing catheters and CryoBalloon ablation which make more permanent lesion lines around your Pulmonary Veins.

Also, people with comorbidities, like sleep apnea, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, tend to have more recurrences. Sleep apnea can cause A-Fib to develop in other parts of the heart besides the Pulmonary Veins.

Worst case scenario: But let’s discuss a worst case scenario after a successful catheter ablation. Let’s say that five years later, your A-Fib reoccurs. Usually, all that’s necessary is for a touch-up ablation to fix some gaps in the isolation burns around the openings to the PVs or other spots. It’s usually a much easier, faster procedure than your original ablation. Often, that’s all that’s necessary to keep you A-Fib free.

No Magic Pill for A-Fib: In more than 40% of cases, antiarrhythmic drugs don’t work, cause bad side effects, or lose their effectiveness over time. We don’t currently have a magic pill you can take which will guarantee to forever cure you of A-Fib.

I’m glad that flecainide works for you, but it’s not generally considered a permanent cure for A-Fib.

Catheter Ablation Only Hope of a “Cure”: The bottom line is that catheter ablation (and some surgeries) currently offers the only hope of a permanent cure of A-Fib. That doesn’t mean that all A-Fib ablations are 100% successful. Catheter ablation is a relatively new field where there is still a lot to learn. But catheter ablation is a low-risk procedure with a high rate of success. Right now, it’s the best that medical science has to offer to fix Atrial Fibrillation.

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