I’ve updated and expanded the answer to a Frequently Asked Question about recurrence of your A-Fib after a successful ablation:
I think your chances of staying A-Fib free are pretty good.
A PVI is Like a Kind of Immunization Against A-Fib
If your Pulmonary Veins (PV) are well isolated and stay that way, you can’t get A-Fib there again. When the PVs are isolated and disconnected and haven’t reconnected, it seems to be permanent. But it’s too early in the history of PVA(I)s to say this definitively.
NOTE: PVA(I) is a relatively new procedure. I had my catheter ablation in 1998 and I’m still A-Fib free today. However, at that time of my ablation, only one of my Pulmonary Veins was isolated, so in theory, the other veins could start producing A-Fib signals—but that hasn’t happened.
Regrowth/Reconnection of Ablated Heart Tissue
There is a tendency for ablated heart tissue to heal itself, regrow the ablated area, reconnect, and start producing A-Fib signals again. But if this happens, it usually occurs within the first three to six months of the initial PVA(I).
Recent research indicates that for a small number of people, a successful Pulmonary Vein Ablation (Isolation) procedure may not be a permanent “cure.” Dr. Francis Marchlinski of the University of Pennsylvania…read the rest of Steve answer.
Researcher Evgeny Pokushalov asked:
If A-Fib recurs after a patient’s initial catheter ablation procedure, which is the better follow-up treatment? A second catheter ablation or taking antiarrhythmic meds?
In this study, 154 paroxysmal A-Fib patients who had a failed ablation were divided into two groups. The first group had a second ablation. The second group was put on antiarrhythmic drug therapy. The two groups were followed for three years, then compared.
Three-Year Study Results
At the end of the follow-up period, 58% of patients who had a second ablation (group 1), were A-Fib free and without use of antiarrhythmic drugs (AADs); 4% of this group had progressed to persistent A-Fib.
Only 12% of those on antiarrhythmic drug therapy (group 2) were A-Fib free; 23% of this group had progressed to persistent A-Fib.
I had expected (and it was confirmed) that the group getting a second ablation would have better results than the group on antiarrhythmic drug (AAD) therapy. Many studies have documented this when patients undergo first ablations vs AAD therapy.
What I didn’t expect was the rate of progression to persistent A-Fib in the second group. Nearly one-fourth (23%) of patients taking antiarrhythmic drugs progressed to persistent A-Fib after a failed ablation!
The message is clear. To reduce your risk of progressing to persistent A-Fib, if you have a failed ablation, you are best served to get a second ablation rather than relying on antiarrhythmic drugs.
“I have a defective Mitral Valve. Is it causing my A-Fib? Should I have my Mitral Valve fixed first before I have a PVA?”
Mitral Valve problems seem to be related to A-Fib, possibly because the extra strain a defective Mitral Valve puts on the heart may cause stretching and put extra pressure on the Pulmonary Vein openings where most A-Fib originates. However, fixing your defective Mitral Valve isn’t a guarantee of curing A-Fib. Once the A-Fib hot spots in your heart have been activated, they may continue firing after your Mitral Valve is fixed.
If you have to have open heart surgery to fix your Mitral Valve, you may want to consider going to a medical center that can fix both your Mitral Valve and do a Cox Maze operation at the same time. But bear in mind the Cox Maze operation and its less invasive versions are pretty hard on the heart and body. (For more, see our Treatments page about Maze and Mini-Maze surgeries.)
If you want to get a PVA to get rid of your A-Fib, you may want to do it before you replace your Mitral Valve. Some doctors will not do a PVA if you have an artificial Mitral Valve, because of the risk of blood clots and the risk of damaging the artificial mitral valve.
Return to FAQ Catheter Ablations
By Steve S. Ryan, PhD
Pulmonary Vein Ablation of A-Fib is a relatively new procedure whose techniques and language are evolving. What follows is perhaps an oversimplified, somewhat biased attempt at explaining the catheter ablation procedures from a patient’s perspective. (Pulmonary Vein Ablation differs from other types of Catheter Ablation used in treating A-Fib, such as ‘Ablation of the AV Node’.)
‘Focal Catheter Ablation’ or ’Focal Point Catheter Ablation’
In this early procedure doctors mapped the sources of ectopic beats (beats that come from any region of the heart that ordinarily should not produce heart beat signals), then used a Radiofrequency (RF) catheter to “ablate” or burn off areas or points within the heart producing these ectopic beats. But if you weren’t in A-Fib at the time, it was difficult to identify the Focal Points or areas of the heart producing ectopic beats.
Doctors discovered that when a patient was not in A-Fib, the Focal Points producing A-Fib signals could still be found by identifying and mapping electrical potentials coming from these points. A potential is an electrical charge or energy—like the battery energy in your car. Even if your car isn’t running, you can still measure 12 volts “potential” at the battery. Similarly, in your heart any potential can be measured and pinpointed, even if you aren’t in A-Fib. When the area is ablated, the potential disappears. Like taking the battery out of your car, removing this potential eliminates your A-Fib. (Doctors today do not usually ablate within the Pulmonary Veins because of the risk of causing Stenosis (swelling). Instead they determine where the A-Fib signal(s) exits the Pulmonary Vein opening and ablate there to “Isolate” the A-Fib signal.)
‘Circumferential Ablation ‘or ‘Circumferential Pulmonary Vein Ablation’ (CPVA)
A circular catheter is used to make Circular Radiofrequency Ablation lines around each of the four Pulmonary Vein openings (ostia) in the left atrium of the heart. This procedure isolates the Pulmonary Veins from the rest of the heart and prevents any A-Fib signals from these veins from getting into the rest of the heart.
‘Anatomically-Based Circumferential PV Ablation’ or ‘Wide Area Circumferential Ablation’ (WACA)
Instead of trying to make continuous, perfect linear lesions around the Pulmonary Viens which can be difficult and time consuming, doctors use a “drop and drag” technique with a larger tip catheter which leaves gaps that are usually closed over time with scar tissue. This procedure originated in Italy. It has a good success rate with very few side effects both for Paroxysmal and for Chronic A-Fib.
The ‘Anatomically Based Circumferential PV Ablation’ procedure is faster, easier, requires less operator’s skill, and is more cost effective for doctors. But from a patient’s perspective it involves a lot of scarring of the heart by high wattage wide tipped catheters. And 20% of patients have atrial flutter after the procedure because of all the gaps in the lesion lines, though most of this flutter eventually disappears as these gaps fill in with scar tissue. Probably because of the gaps which caused patients a lot of problems, WACA doesn’t seem to be used much any more.
‘Pulmonary Vein (Wide Area) Antrum Isolation’(PVAI)
Instead on encircling each of the four Pulmonary Vein openings, one large encircling set of lesions isolates both the upper and lower left vein openings, another the upper and lower right vein openings. The encircling lesions are in the Antrum rather than near the vein openings.
Almost everyone doing RF ablations today seems to be using Antrum Isolation, for the main reason that the ablations are so far outside the Pulmonary Vein openings that the danger of creating stenosis (swelling of the pulmonary vein openings) is virtually eliminated.
In January 2014, I was privileged to observe doctors doing PVIs in their cath labs. Two of the leading EPs in Florida, Dr. Robert Fishel at JFK Medical Center in Atlantis/West Palm Beach, FL, and Dr. Sidney Peykar at Fawcett Memorial Hospital in Port Charlotte, FL, graciously let me observe, explained their procedures and answered my questions. Though they use different catheters and imaging systems, they both do PVAI and ablate in the antrum far away from the Pulmonary Vein openings as do most EPs today. Their point-by-point ablations burns are amazingly precise, consistent and normally leave no gaps. See my report, Visiting EP Labs as an Observer Instead of as a Patient.
‘Pulmonary Vein Ablation’ (PVA) or ‘Pulmonary Vein Isolation’ (PVI)
In general, types of PVA/PVI include: ‘Segmental Ablation’, ‘Circumferential Ablation’, ‘Anatomically-Based Circumferential PV Ablation’ and ‘Pulmonary Vein Antrum Isolation’. They are all similar in their approach. Their primary emphasis is the ablation/isolation of the Pulmonary Vein openings.
Note: Many use the term “Catheter Ablation” of A-Fib to include all of the above different ablation techniques.
Newer types of ablation have somewhat different ablation targets:
• ’Complex Fractionated Atrial Electrograms’ [CFAE]
• ‘Autonomic Ganglionated Plexi'[AGP]
Terms that still need to be re-defined
• Rather than ‘Isolation’, the term ‘electrical disconnection’ (used by The French Bordeaux group) may more aptly describes what ‘ablation’ does.
• The terms ‘Pulmonary Vein Potentials’ and ‘Pulmonary Vein Isolation’ both need to be re-defined because not all Potentials come from the Pulmonary Vein openings.
Which of the above procedures is the best? They all have somewhat similar success rates. Though the jury is still out on this, ‘Circumferential Ablation’ is quicker and faster for doctors and requires less mapping, but it’s difficult to make good circular ablations. The Pulmonary Vein openings aren’t always smooth, and the surfaces are not always easy to ablate. The inside of the heart is not a continuously smooth surface. Any gap in the circular ablation may result in more A-Fib. And not all A-Fib comes from the Pulmonary Veins. From a patient’s perspective, you’re better off with a doctor who will carefully map your heart to find out where exactly your A-Fib signals are coming from, and who will check for both Entrance and Exit Block (Isolation).
Also, with ‘Circumferential Ablation’ there might be a greater danger of Stenosis, a swelling of the Pulmonary Vein openings after ablation. PV Stenosis restricts blood flow into the heart and can lead to fatigue, flu-like symptoms and pneumonia. Most EPs now use Pulmonary Vein (Wide Area) Antrum Isolation and stay well away from ablating near the Pulmonary Vein openings.
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Treatments for Atrial Fibrillation include both short-term and long-term approaches aimed at controlling or eliminating the abnormal heart rhythm associated with A-Fib.
Doctors have several technologies and diagnostic tests to aid them in evaluating your A-Fib. Go to Diagnostic Testing ->
• Sleep Apnea: Home Testing Now Available
• A Primer: Ambulatory Heart Rhythm Monitors
• Guide to DIY Heart Rate Monitors & Handheld ECG Monitors (Part I)
• Guide to Heart Rate Monitors: How They Work For A-Fib Patients (Part II)
• Understanding the EKG Signal
• The CHADS2 Stroke-Risk Grading System
A deficiency in minerals like magnesium or potassium can force the heart into fatal arrhythmias. When you have A-Fib, a sensible starting point is to check for chemical imbalances or deficiencies. Go to Mineral Deficiencies ->
• Frequently Asked Questions: Mineral Deficiencies & Supplements
• ‘Natural’ Supplements for a Healthy Heart
• Alternative Remedies and Tips
• Acupuncture Helps A-Fib—Specific Acupuncture Sites Identified
• Low Serum Magnesium Linked with A-Fib
Medications (drug therapies) for A-Fib patients are designed to regain and maintain normal heart rhythm, control the heart rate (pulse), and prevent stroke. Go to Drug Therapies ->
• Frequently Asked Questions: Drug Therapies and Medicines
• Anticoagulant Therapy after Successful A-Fib Catheter Ablation: Is it Right for Me?
• Warfarin vs. Pradaxa and the Other New Anticoagulants
• Amiodarone: Most Effective and Most Toxic
• Research Findings: Anticoagulants for Stroke Prevention
• Watchman: the Alternative to Blood Thinners
The goal of cardioversion is to restore your heart to normal rhythm. There are two types of cardioversion: chemical and electrical. Cardioversion through the use of drugs is called chemical cardioversion. Electrical cardioversion uses a timed electrical shock to restore normal rhythm. Go to Cardiversion ->
RF and CryoBalloon catheter ablation are minimally invasive procedures that block electrical signals which trigger erratic heart rhythms like Atrial Fibrillation. Go to Catheter Ablation ->
• New Ablation Technique by Dr. Andrea Natale
• Frequently Asked Questions: Catheter Ablation, Pulmonary Vein Isolation, CyroBalloon Ablation
• Considering a Catheter Ablation? Know Complication Rates When Choosing Your Doctor
• Ablation Success Rate Much Better With Weight Control
• A-Fib Research: Live Longer―Have a Catheter Ablation
• Recurrence of A-Fib After Successful Catheter Ablation
• A Cryo Ablation Primer
• Radiation Exposure During an Ablation Procedure: How to Protect Yourself from Damage
• Risks Associated with Pulmonary Vein Procedure
• The Evolving Terminology of Catheter Ablation
• Bordeaux Five-Step Ablation Protocol for Chronic A-Fib
• Bordeaux Procedures & Costs
The traditional open-heart Cox-Maze is usually performed concurrent with other heart disease treatments. More common are the various Mini-Maze surgeries which are stand-alone surgeries performed through small port-size incisions in the chest. Go to Maze, Mini-Maze & Hybrid ->
• Advantages of the Convergent Procedure by Dr. James Edgerton
• FAST Trial: Surgical Versus Catheter Ablation―Flawed Study, But Important Results for Patients
• Advances in Surgical Therapy for A-Fib by Dr. David Kess
• Role of the LAA & Removal Issues
From a patient’s point of view, this is a procedure of last resort. By ablating or eliminating the AV Node, your Atrial Fibrillation signals can’t get to the ventricles which does stop your heart from racing and improves your Quality of Life. But you must have a permanent pacemaker implanted in your heart for the rest of your life to replace your AV Node functions. And what’s worse, you still have Atrial Fibrillation. Go to Ablation of the AV Node->
Pacemakers may be implanted for pacing support, or in conjunction with Ablation of the AV Node (see above). Implanting a pacemaker seems to be most helpful if you have a slow heart rate or pauses as a result of taking A-Fib medications. But be advised that pacemakers tend to have bad effects over the long term.
ICDs which shock the heart to return it to normal rhythm are not usually used in A-Fib. Some people describe an ICD shock as like a horse kicking you in the chest. Because A-Fib attacks can occur relatively frequently, repeated ICD shocks can be very painful and disruptive. Patients with ICDs often live in fear of the next shock. Most patients would rather have A-Fib than risk being shocked throughout the day and night.
When considering treatments for atrial fibrillation, you may ask,“Which is the best A-Fib treatment option for me?” This is a decision only you and your doctor can make. Here are some guidelines to help you. I’ve listed A-Fib conditions as patients might describe them. Select one (or more) that best describes your A-Fib and read your possible options. Go to Decision About Treatment Options ->
A-Fib is a progressive disease – Don’t wait – Seek a CURE as soon as practical.
I Beat my A-Fib—So can YOU!
Last updated: Monday, November 21, 2016