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In your 80s? Are You Doomed to a Life in A-Fib or Can You Still Have a Catheter Ablation?

If you’re in your 80s, you’re not automatically doomed to a life in A-Fib and on A-Fib drugs. You most likely can still have a catheter ablation. The research by Dr. Pasquale Santangeli is very hopeful and encouraging.

Study of Octogenarians Who Had a Catheter Ablation (PVI)

Dr. Pasquale Santangeli and his colleagues at the Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute in Austin, TX examined data from 103 octogenarians who had an RF catheter ablation between 2008 and 2011. They compared this older group to younger patients who underwent the same procedure.

 If you’re in your 80s, you’re not automatically doomed to a life in A-Fib and on A-Fib drugs.

• There was no difference in the rate of success between the octogenarians and the younger group (69% vs. 71%).

• The rate of procedure-related complications was also not significantly different between the two groups, even when looking at different types of A-Fib such as paroxysmal and non-paroxysmal A-Fib.

• Octogenarians with paroxysmal A-Fib had more non-pulmonary vein trigger sites, and consequently required longer procedural time to effectively isolate such non-pulmonary vein areas. (Dr. Santangeli suggested a hypothesis that the underlying pathology of A-Fib in older patients might be different from younger patients.)

In practice, octogenarians have been largely excluded from clinical trials of catheter ablation. Current guidelines are also very conservative, because there has been a lack of adequate clinical studies in this area. Dr. Santangeli’s report is a step in the right direction.

When Old Isn’t Necessarily Old

In the real world old isn’t necessarily old. People in their 80s may indeed have ‘excellent functional and health status” which would make them good candidates for a catheter ablation. Most healthy 80-year-olds aren’t so frail that they can’t have a catheter ablation.

You can still have a catheter ablation but you need to find an EP Experienced in Non-PV Triggers.

After all, a catheter ablation is a non-invasive procedure. It isn’t like open heart surgery which is incredibly taxing and physically demanding. You don’t have to be a ‘Johnny Atlas’ muscleman to have a catheter ablation. Most healthy 80-year-olds aren’t so frail that they can’t have a catheter ablation.

In your 80s? Find an EP Experienced in Non-PV Triggers

If you’re in your 80s, you most likely can still have a catheter ablation. But, you need to find the right electrophysiologist (EP).

Make sure you select an EP with a proven track record of finding and isolating non-PV triggers. (Dr. Santangeli’s research found that octogenarians have more non-pulmonary vein trigger sites.) Some EPs can’t or won’t make the extra effort to map and ablate non-PV triggers.

(I’ve read O.R. reports where the patient was still in A-Fib after the EP had ablated their PVs. Instead of trying to map and ablate non-PV triggers, the EP simply electrocardioverted [shocked] the patient back into sinus rhythm. After a short time, the patient went back into A-Fib.)

Questions to Ask a Prospective EP

When interviewing a prospective EP, ask:

 “What do you do if I’m still in A-Fib after you’ve ablated my pulmonary veins?” (You want a reply such as “I use mapping to search for non-PV triggers in other areas of the heart”.)

We are indebted to Dr. Santangeli and his colleagues for showing that octogenarians can have a successful, safe ablation, and shouldn’t be excluded from a catheter ablation simply on the basis of their age.

To learn more: read my related article: FAQs A-Fib Ablations: Is 82 Too Old for a PVA?  

References for this article

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