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Obesity Strong Predictor of A-Fib Risk and Recurrence – 2014 Boston AF Symposium

Boston AF Symposium 2014

Obesity Strong Predictor of A-Fib Risk and Recurrence

Report by Steve S. Ryan, PhD

Dr David Wilber Loyola University Medical Center

Dr. David Wilber Loyola University Medical Center

Dr. David Wilber of Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, IL gave a presentation entitled “Obesity, Inflammation and Atrial Fibrillation.”

Dr. Wilber described the findings of several studies on obesity and A-Fib:

1. Obese Patients Are at Greater Risk of Developing A-Fib.

In the Framingham Heart Study of 5,282 patients followed for 13.7 years, obese patients had a 1.5 greater risk of developing A-Fib. (Wang et al. JAMA 2004; 2022:2474)

In studies involving 68,000 people, obese patients had a 49% increased risk of new onset A-Fib (Wanahita et al. AHJ 2008; 155:310-315)

Increase In BMI (Body Mass Index) Is associated with a risk of developing A-Fib

♦  16% for a BMI increase of 5-15%
♦  46% for a BMI increase of 16-35%
♦  90% for a BMI increase of over 35%

2. Obesity Produces Left Atrium Volume Changes and Overload

In the MONICA study of 1212 patients followed for ten years, 36% had hypertension, 34% were obese. Only obesity predicted Left Atrium volume changes and produced volume overload. (Hypertension produced pressure overload.) (Stritzke et al. JACC 2009; 54:1982-9)

3. Predictably Progress to Permanent A-Fib

In the Olmstead County study of 3,248 patients with Paroxysmal A-Fib (1980-2000), BMI greater than 35 (obese) predicted progression to permanent A-Fib independent of age, gender and clinical variables.

Obesity Factors Influencing or Responsible for A-Fib

Dr. Wilber then examined what factors or elements of obesity were responsible for affecting A-Fib.

1.  Epicardial fat had more local chemokines, cytokines, and cellular infiltrates (fibrosis) than subcutaneous fat. He described an experimental study where epicardial and subcutaneous fat were added to atrial rat tissue. (Epicardial fat had higher levels of activin A and other biomarkers of fibrosis.)

2.  In the Framingham Offspring study, only pericardial fat volume was significantly associated with A-Fib risk. 13% increased risk of A-Fib per 10 ml volume of pericardial fat.

3.  In sheep experiments, obesity was profibrotic (increase in interstitial and cytoplasmic TGF-B1, PDGF-BB, and CTGF levels). Increasing weight produced significant increase in A-Fib burden (more and longer A-Fib episodes)

4.  Risk of recurrence increases with obesity (Guijian et al, PACE 2013; 36:748-756). Left Atrium fat volume was the only significant predictor of recurrence (Tsao et al 2011)

5.  A 19% decrease in weight significantly decreases A-Fib burden.

Dr. Wilber’s Conclusions

•  Obesity is a strong independent predictor of A-Fib risk

•  Obesity produces cardiac structural remodeling, notably LA volume and diastolic dysfunction

•  Local direct effects which promote Left Atrium fibrosis through inflammatory and profibrotic cytokines

•  Epicardial fat volume may be a useful way to measure or be a marker for local direct effects like fibrosis. Epicardial fat is independently associated with A-Fib risk relative to BMI, Left Atrial Volume, and other risk factors

•  Obesity significantly impacts A-Fib recurrence after ablation

•  Weight lost reduces the risk of new onset A-Fib, and subsequent progression/recurrence after A-Fib onset

Editor’s Comments:
Obesity is a major problem particularly in the US, so we can expect to see an increased number of the obese developing A-Fib (along with a host of other problems like hypertension, diabetes, coronary disease and sleep apnea).
The most startling statistic Dr. Wilber cited was that a BMI increase of 35% in men from age 25 to 50 increased the risk of developing A-Fib by 90%. Practically speaking, almost everyone who becomes obese in their lifetime will develop A-Fib. That’s a really scary statistic with enormous public health consequences.
And paroxysmal A-Fib patients who are obese will predictably progress to persistent (chronic) A-Fib.
“Is it a waste of time to perform a catheter ablation on someone who is obese? Aren’t they more at risk of recurrence?” They certainly are more at risk of recurrence. But a successful catheter ablation will change their lives and improve their quality of life. However, EPs should insist that obese patients who have a successful ablation must lose weight. But that should be easier to do if the obese person is in normal sinus rhythm and isn’t plagued by A-Fib symptoms like being unable to exercise because of a racing heart.
As Dr. Wilber suggests, measurement of epicardial fat volume should become a routine part of a yearly physical.  For example, if a patient has a certain amount of epicardial fat volume, they should be told they are at a greater risk of developing A-Fib (and other health problems).
The good news is that weight loss both reduces the risk of developing A-Fib and reduces A-Fib burden (how badly A-Fib affects us). And it lowers the risk of recurrence after a successful catheter ablation.

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Last updated: Tuesday, February 9, 2016 



Advantages of the Convergent (Hybrid) Procedure

Convergent Procedure lesion pattern

Convergent Procedure lesion pattern

Advantages of the Convergent Procedure

UNC Cardiac Surgery and Electrophysiology Services

Andy C. Kiser, MD  Paul Mounsey, MD, Updated March 2014

(Reproduced with permission.)

Cardiac surgeons continually strive toward less invasive procedures which avoid approaches like full median sternotomies and thoracotomies. However, reports of minimally invasive cardiac surgical procedures may include hemi-sternotomies, mini-thoracotomies, or full median sternotomies without cardiopulmonary bypass.

True minimally invasive procedures must not only be defined by the size of the incision, but also by the invasiveness into the patient’s daily lifestyle and the impact on their quality of life.

There are a variety of techniques and devices in use for the surgical treatment of atrial fibrillation (AF). The current gold standard for the surgical treatment has been the Cox cut and sew maze procedure. There have been variations through the years leading to a host of other surgical AF procedures, such as the Wolf mini-maze1, practiced by many surgeons. Other techniques create myocardial lesions using some form of radiofrequency energy, laser, cryothermy or high-frequency ultrasound. All of these techniques require access to the heart through either a full sternotomy or less-invasive approaches with incisions on the left and/or right side of the chest. Some techniques require cardiopulmonary bypass and sometimes cardioplegia to stop the heart entirely.2,3 Until recently, no current technique or device provided access to the posterior left atrium directly.

Pericardioscopy is a totally endoscopic technique that provides direct visualization of, and access to, the epicardial surface of the beating heart without the need for cardiopulmonary bypass or prolonged postoperative recovery. Unlike a subxyphoid approach, pericardioscopy provides access to the heart via the central tendon of the diaphragm. This allows direct vision of the posterior cardiac structures with minimal hemodynamic compromise. Such access and visualization of the epicardial cardiac surface has enabled epicardial ablation techniques, like the Convergent Procedure, as a treatment for atrial fibrillation.4,5 Pericardioscopy eliminates the need for sternotomy or thoracotomy when access to the epicardial surface is necessary.

Convergent Procedure - Transdiaphragmatic Pericardioscipic Access

Transdiaphragmatic Pericardioscipic Access



The surgical treatment of atrial fibrillation (AF) is based upon the creation of an anatomical pattern of myocardial scar. The Corridor Procedure 6, the Radial Maze Procedure,6 and the Cox maze I-III7,8 are anatomical patterns designed to disrupt the re-entry circuits of AF by dividing the atria into non-conductive segments. Electrophysiologists, in comparison, use endocardial catheters and electrodes to identify the triggers causing AF and direct their treatments towards these foci of abnormal electrical activity in the atria. The individual success of these approaches, either surgical or endocardial, has been limited by technical complexity and/or less than desirable outcomes.

A truly successful and adoptable AF treatment has always seemed to be just out of reach. The acclaimed gold standard cut and sew maze procedure reports exceptional outcomes but remains a complex procedure that is rarely performed.9,10 The mini-maze11 and pulmonary vein isolation12reduce procedural complexity by decreasing the number of lesions and by eliminating cardiopulmonary bypass. However, both the surgeons and the cardiologists have demonstrated that when treatment is limited to the left atrium, outcomes suffer as a consequence.13,14 The endocardial, catheter-based AF ablations, not unlike the surgical procedures, remain long and technically difficult procedures performed by relatively few electrophysiologists. The high rate of repeat procedures and less than desirable long-term outcomes have been disappointing.15 Unfortunately, surgeons and cardiologists seldom collaborate in the development of new technologies and innovative approaches to overcome these individual procedural shortcomings.

The Convergent Procedure has been developed by a multidisciplinary team of cardiologist and cardiac surgeons to address the procedural and communication barriers. The Convergent Procedure is the simultaneous creation of a surgeon’s PEX epicardial ablation pattern and electrophysiologist’s endocardial ablation pattern (Figure 1).

Convergent Procedure - Convergent Procedure Lesion Pattern

Convergent Procedure Lesion Pattern


The surgeon’s ability to effectively create visible, and therefore contiguous, epicardial ablation lines has greatly reduced the amount of endocardial tissue which must be ablated to complete a successful trans-septal catheter procedure. The integration of a surgeon’s anatomical approach to AF with the physiological approach of the electrophysiologist’s has led to the development of the Convergent Procedure.

This convergence of technologies and expertise provides or allows for:

1. The creation of a complete, bi-atrial, endocardial and epicardial ablation pattern without a chest incision or cardiopulmonary bypass;

2. Intra-operative metrics to confirm procedural success;

3. Integrated patient care by cardiology and cardiac surgery; and

4. Decreased length of hospital stay and the number of repeat ablation procedures.


At the UNC Center for Heart & Vascular Care, we have created a multidisciplinary service that integrates the care of Arrhythmia patients. Evaluation of each case by the multidisciplinary team of arrhythmia experts ensures an individualized, yet consensus, treatment plan. Without this integrated approach, the best treatment option may not be available or may require much longer wait times, more travel and more inconvenience and delay for the patient.

The patient’s clinical presentation is vitally important to developing the multidisciplinary treatment plan. Left atrial size, AF type and AF duration are significant contributory factors. We advocate a 24-hour Holter monitor on all patients under evaluation to document the degree of AF burden. Additional evaluation includes a trans-thoracic echocardiogram and cardiac catheterization or stress test to exclude structural heart disease in the setting of AF.

The consensus opinion by the Heart Rhythm Society Task Force states that, “stand-alone AF surgery should be considered for symptomatic AF patients who prefer a surgical approach, have failed one or more attempts at catheter ablation, or are not candidates for catheter ablation.” Left atrial size and AF duration are important factors in this decision process. When the left atrium is larger than 6.0 cm or the duration of AF is greater than 5 years, the long term success for the Cut and Sew maze procedure are under 80% (Figure 2). It is difficult for the electrophysiologist to consistently and effectively complete pulmonary vein isolation when the left atrium is greater than 5.0 cm. Therefore, when a patient has paroxysmal AF and the left atrium is under 4.5-5.0 cm, we recommend percutaneous catheter ablation. In this population, simple pulmonary vein isolation may be effective in over 80% of patients.16

Patients with paroxysmal AF and a left atrium greater than 4.5 cm and those with persistent and long-standing persistent AF demonstrate the best outcomes when a bi-atrial lesion pattern is created. Surgeons who have experience with minimally invasive approaches choose the ablation technology best suited for their technique. Whichever approach and device is used, a comprehensive lesion pattern of contiguous and transmural lesions are essential. Persistence and intra-operative verification of lesion and pattern integrity is crucial. The Convergent Procedure has established new criteria for lesion integrity by the verification of procedural completion by endocardial electrophysiologic metrics. The Convergent Procedure is not complete until pulmonary vein isolation and posterior left atrial exclusion is confirmed, the coronary sinus is ablated, and a cavo-tricuspid isthmus lesion is created. These metrics provide confidence of procedural success and set new standards for the hybrid treatment of persistent and long-standing persistent AF.

Left: Success Decreases with Left Atrial Size>6.0cm; Right: AF Duration Predicts Sinus Rhythm Restoration Post Maze Procedure

Left: Success Decreases with Left Atrial Size>6.0cm; Right: AF Duration Predicts Sinus Rhythm Restoration Post Maze Procedure



There have been many minimally invasive approaches to treat AF, all based primarily upon the original work by Cox and his maze procedure. By integrating electrophysiology and cardiac surgery in a hybrid AF treatment, new procedural and perioperative standards have been established at our institution. The initial outcomes utilizing this multidisciplinary approach are excellent and patient satisfaction is overwhelmingly positive.

Reproduced with permission.17

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Return to Index of Articles: Maze, Mini-Maze, Convergent, LAA Closure Surgeries

Last updated: Sunday, February 15, 2015

Footnote Citations    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Wolf RK, Schneeberger EW, Osterday R, Miller D, Merrill W, Flege JB Jr, Gillinov AM. Video-assisted bilateral pulmonary vein isolation and left atrial appendage exclusion for atrial fibrillation. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2005; 130:797-802
  2. Henry L, Ad N. The Maze procedure: a surgical intervention for ablation of atrial fibrillation. Heart Lung. 2008 Nov-Dec;37(6):432-9.
  3. Chitwood WR Jr, Wixon CL, Elbeery JR, Moran JF, Chapman WH, Lust RM., Video-assisted minimally invasive mitral valve surgery, J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 1997 Nov;114(5):773-80; discussion 780-2
  4. Kiser AC, Wimmer-Greinecker G, Chitwood WR. Totally extracardiac maze procedure performed on the beating heart. Ann Thorac Surg 2007;84:1783-85.
  5. Kiser AC, Wimmer-Greinecker G, Kapelak B, Bartus K, Sadowski J. Paracardioscopic ex-maze procedure for atrial fibrillation. Innovations 2008; 3:117
  6. Nitta T, Lee R, Schuessler RB, Boineau JP, Cox JL. Radial approach: a new concept in surgical treatment for atrial fibrillation I. Concept, anatomic and physiologic bases and development of a procedure. Ann Thorac Surg. 1999 Jan;67(1):27-35.2
  7. Cox JL, Schuessler RB, D’Agostino HJ Jr, et al.The surgical treatment of atrial fibrillation. III. Development of a definitive surgical procedure. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 1991 Apr;101(4):569-83,
  8.  Cox JL, Boineau JP, Schuessler RB, et al. Modification of the Maze procedure for atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation: I. Rationale and surgical results. J Thorac and Cardiovasc Surg 1995; 110:485-495
  9. Prasad SM, Maniar HS, Camillo CJ, et al. The Cox maze III procedure for atrial fibrillation: long-term efficacy in patients undergoing lone versus concomitant procedures. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2003; 126(6):1822-8
  10. Kosakai Y. Treatment of atrial fibrillation using the maze procedure: the Japanese experience. Sem Thor Cardiovasc Surg. 2000; 12:44-52.
  11. Wolf RK, Schneeberger EW, Osterday R, Miller D, Merrill W, Flege JB Jr, Gillinov AM. Video-assisted bilateral pulmonary vein isolation and left atrial appendage exclusion for atrial fibrillation. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2005; 130:797-802
  12. Edgerton JR, Edgerton ZJ, Weaver T, et al. Minimally Invasive Pulmonary Vein Isolation and Partial Autonomic Denervation for Surgical Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation. Ann. Thorac. Surg. July 2008; 86:35-39
  13. Barnett SD, Ad N. Surgical ablation as treatment for the elimination of atrial fibrillation: a meta-analysis. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2006 May;131(5):1029-35.
  14. Calo I, Lamberti F, Loricchio ML, et al. Left atrial ablation versus biatrial ablation for persistent and permanent atrial fibrillation: a prospective and randomized study. J Am Coll Cardiol 2006;47:2504-2512.
  15. Cappato R, Calkins H, Chen SA, et al. Worldwide survey on the methods, efficacy, and safety of catheter ablation for human atrial fibrillation. Circulation. 2005;111:1100-1105
  16. Haissaguerre M, Jais P, Shah DC, Takahashi A, et al. Spontaneous initiation of atiral fibrillation by ectopic beats originating in the pulmonary veins. N Engl J Med. 1998; 339:659-666.
  17. Kiser, A., Mounse, P. Advantages of the Convergent Procedure.UNC Cardiac Surgery and Electrophysilogy Services. Accessed September 03, 2012. URL:

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