A-Fib Patient Story #78
By Jeff Patten, Ashby, MA, January 2015
My A-Fib started about fifteen years ago.
That warm September day in 2000, I was tired, had a lot of coffee and was trying to finish a heavy shrub transplanting job. Sweating and breathing heavily, I noticed my heart was not doing what it should.
Alarming! Dehydration?? A couple of hours in ER and it normalized on its own.
After a couple more brief episodes, I decided to get back in better shape – slowly and judiciously! I’d always been active and couldn’t understand why the ole’ ticker was failing me now. They called it lone paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, so there was nothing else wrong.
Flecainide “Pill-In-The-Pocket,” Propafenone, Then CryoBalloon Ablation
The next decade saw no more episodes.
Then, in 2010, my father-in-law died. The recipe of emotional upset, high summer heat, stress (there was a lot of heavy “estate” to handle), and―as they tell me―accumulated age put me back on the A-Fib merry-go-’round.
My A-Fib was very symptomatic with erratic chest pounding, weakness and breathlessness. I took Life easier, and the A-Fib eased―until that autumn’s bout with appendicitis!
My EP put me on flecainide as a pill-in-the-pocket. That seemed to work for a while―until it didn’t
In December 2012, I had a pulmonary vein isolation (PVI). My EP used the newly approved CryoBalloon catheter.
Recovery: A-Fib free, but Pradaxa “Alimentary Torture” and Burning Diarrhea, Switch to Xarelto
After my ablation, I was put on a double dose of the proton pump inhibitor omeprazole (Prilosec), which is done on the theory it will help prevent the very unusual but deadly side effect of PVI known as atrioesophageal fistula by reducing erosive inflammation.
Since my INR numbers on warfarin were hard to control and there was concern about warfarin’s deleterious effect on vascular calcium through its action on vitamin K, I was put on dabigatran (Pradaxa) as an alternative.
Pradaxa comes in a special container to control moisture. The pills must be tossed if not used in four months once opened. They are awkwardly large. They must be taken twice a day. They are formulated with tartaric acid to help absorption. Everyone who takes Pradaxa must contend with all this.
Pradaxa was alimentary torture. Burned on the way down. Burned in my stomach and belly. Burned with diarrhea on the way out.
After six days I called for help and was switched to rivaroxaban (Xarelto). This is a small pill. Tiny, really. No particular moisture issues. No unusual expiration. Once a day. No burning. But the diarrhea continued for more than a couple of months.
Lymphocytic Colitis: From Taking Omeprazole (Prilosec) and/or Pradaxa?
As soon as my ablation was deemed ‘successful’, meaning that I was able to come off my doses of propafenone and Xarelto and omeprazole, I had a colonoscopy to check out the continuing diarrhea.
Diagnosis: lymphocytic colitis. I did a bit of research on this and discovered that very little is conclusively known about this increasing public problem. It is understood that there is an association between this colitis and the use of proton pump inhibitors among other meds such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. The diarrhea gradually subsided.
This Pradaxa/omeprazole story is one anecdote. No scientific conclusions can be drawn. I know what I personally conclude about it, however!
Ectopic Beats Turn into Flutter, RF Ablation
The ectopic beats following the ablation got worse.
PACs and PVCs are supposed to be normal and benign. Sometimes mine seemed to string themselves together for a bit. Then in July 2013, they didn’t quit. A heart rate of 130 at rest sent me to the E.R. where I got a diagnosis of atrial flutter, a successful cardioversion, and an appointment for another ablation.
An ablation in August addressed three flutter ‘circuits’. Careful electrical mapping was used this time, and RF-energy was used to break the ‘circuits’. Apparently flutter such as this often follows on the heels of an A-Fib ablation. Not fully understood. Yet.
So far, so good. I’ll let you know if anything more of interest happens.
Pradaxa and Stomach Problems: It’s unfortunately not unusual to experience the intestinal tract problems Jeff had when taking Pradaxa. Pradaxa’s own fact sheet states the common side effects of Pradaxa include:
• Indigestion, Upset Stomach, or Burning
• Stomach Pain
In Pradaxa’s clinical trials, nearly two out of five people (35%) could not tolerate Pradaxa, which is a high rate of adverse reactions. In an earlier post I wrote “Based on the clinical trial data, there is a danger that Pradaxa over time may cause long-term damage to the gastrointestinal system.” (See The New Anticoagulants [NOACs], 2013 Boston Atrial Fibrillation Symposium). This may be what happened to Jeff when he developed lymphocytic colitis, but we can’t say this for sure.
It’s unusual to be put on a double dose of omeprazole (Prilosec).
Switch from Pradaxa to Eliquis or Go Back to Warfarin: I’d recommend to anyone taking Pradaxa to switch to a different anticoagulant or go back to warfarin if it worked for you. Not only is Pradaxa associated with intestinal tract problems, but it’s been associated with people bleeding to death in the ER. There’s no reversal agent or antidote for Pradaxa as there is for warfarin. (See Stop Prescribing or Taking Pradaxa). Eliquis tested better than the other new anticoagulants and is safer.
With the new anticoagulants (NOACs) now available, no one probably should be taking warfarin anymore. Warfarin produces arterial calcification, and also puts patients at increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. (See Stop Taking Warfarin [Coumadin]!!! Switch to Eliquis [Apixaban].)
Flutter after A-Fib ablation: Many EPs include a Flutter ablation along with an A-Fib PVI. It’s relatively easy to do compared to a left atrium PVI and only adds around 10 minutes to the ablation procedure. It involves making an ablation line in the right atrium (Caviotricuspid Isthmus line) either before or after entering the left atrium. But other EPs are reluctant to make any ablation burns in the heart that aren’t medically necessary. If someone isn’t in right atrium flutter, they wouldn’t do a Flutter ablation. (Personally if I had a choice, I’d ask the EP to do a right atrium Flutter ablation as long as they were already ablating inside my heart anyway.)
However, Jeff had three Flutter circuits which probably meant that some of these Flutter circuits did come from the left atrium. Flutter can develop after an A-Fib ablation or be found later after the inflammation of the ablation scarring settles down. That’s why Jeff needed a second ablation which was RF rather than CryoBalloon.
Oct 2015: FDA Aproves Reversal Agent Praxbind® for the Anticoagulant Pradaxa
The FDA granted “accelerated approval” to Praxbind®, a reversal agent (antidote) to Pradaxa®. Praxbind is given intravenously to patients who have uncontrolled bleeding or require emergency surgery.
If you find any errors on this page, email us. Y Last updated: Sunday, July 17, 2016
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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