"This book is incredibly complete and easy-to-understand for anybody. I certainly recommend it for patients who want to know more about atrial fibrillation than what they will learn from doctors...."

Pierre Jaïs, M.D. Professor of Cardiology, Haut-Lévêque Hospital, Bordeaux, France

"Dear Steve, I saw a patient this morning with your book [in hand] and highlights throughout. She loves it and finds it very useful to help her in dealing with atrial fibrillation."

Dr. Wilber Su Cavanaugh Heart Center, Phoenix, AZ

"Your book [Beat Your A-Fib] is the quintessential most important guide not only for the individual experiencing atrial fibrillation and his family, but also for primary physicians, and cardiologists."

Jane-Alexandra Krehbiel, nurse, blogger and author "Rational Preparedness: A Primer to Preparedness"


"Steve Ryan's summaries of the Boston A-Fib Symposium are terrific. Steve has the ability to synthesize and communicate accurately in clear and simple terms the essence of complex subjects. This is an exceptional skill and a great service to patients with atrial fibrillation."

Dr. Jeremy Ruskin of Mass. General Hospital and Harvard Medical School

"I love your [A-fib.com] website, Patti and Steve! An excellent resource for anybody seeking credible science on atrial fibrillation plus compelling real-life stories from others living with A-Fib. Congratulations…"

Carolyn Thomas, blogger and heart attack survivor; MyHeartSisters.org

"Steve, your website was so helpful. Thank you! After two ablations I am now A-fib free. You are a great help to a lot of people, keep up the good work."

Terry Traver, former A-Fib patient

"If you want to do some research on AF go to A-Fib.com by Steve Ryan, this site was a big help to me, and helped me be free of AF."

Roy Salmon Patient, A-Fib Free; pacemakerclub.com, Sept. 2013


Remote Magnetic Navigation Systems by Hanson and Stereotaxis

Technology & Innovations

Remote Magnetic Navigation Systems—Hanson, Stereotaxis 

Hansen Robotic - Remote Robotic Navigation

Hansen Robotic – Remote Robotic Navigation

In manual ablation the doctor controls the catheter tip by a combination of plunger movements, rotation, and advancing and retracting from about three feet away from the heart.

In the Hanson Robotic system, the doctor uses a motion controller with a flexible guide catheter directly responsive to an operator’s touch that replicates an operator’s natural hand movements. The Hanson system is portable and attaches to a procedure table.

The Stereotaxis mouse and click system uses two large magnets that are incorporated into the EP laboratory. It requires a dedicated EP lab and space commitment. After making an ablation, there is about a 5-7 second delay before the operator can move on to another spot.

The doctor interface screen displays fluoroscopy, intracardiac electrograms, and the EAM system. The magnetic vector can be manipulated from the mapping system or fluoroscopy screen.

Stereotaxis - Remote Magnetic Navigation

Stereotaxis – Remote Magnetic Navigation

The Stereotaxis system has reported an excellent safety record. The lower contact forces may reduce pressure-related complications, such as steam pops and perforations. The Hanson system also is equipped with a limited force-sensing technology.

“Automated schemes work reasonably well in the smooth surface of the left atrium but are less reliable in more trabeculated surfaces.” Anecdotally the author has heard that doctors with access to the Stereotaxis system often work manually instead, because it is faster and less exasperating than the 5-7 second delay.

The Hanson robotic system still requires extensive manual skill, while the Stereotaxis system is automated. Even with skilled, experienced operators it is still possible with a robotic system to have misplaced ablation burns or accidents such as perforations. Whereas the magnetic system using a mouse to make the ablations may be safer, and also more capable of being used by new operators.

Should a patient seek out centers with these remote technologies? Probably not. In this author’s opinion, these remote systems will not survive if they cannot incorporate the advances in catheter development described above.

References for this article

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Last updated: Sunday, February 15, 2015

Imaging Technologies

Technology & Innovations 

CartoSound (Biosense Webster)

CartoSound (Biosense Webster)

Imaging Technologies

For a 2014 update about imaging, see my AF Report: Non-Invasive Electrocardiographic Imaging—ECGI—CardioInsight.

Most of the imaging technologies described here are in use today and represent huge advances in patient treatment.

Ordinary ablations use Fluoroscopy, a type of X-ray to see inside and ablate the heart. But it is two dimensional. Intercardiac Echocardiography (Ultrasound) (ICE) is also 2-D but provides excellent anatomic detail and assistance in navigating and positioning the catheter.

Rotational Angiogaphy

Rotational Angiogaphy

Electroanatomic Mapping (EAM) offers a 3-D view both outside and inside the heart in almost real time. New technologies combine both of these technologies. CartoSound (Biosense Webster, Cincinnati, OH) uses a proprietary 3D EAM system and incorporates the information obtained from an intracardiac ultrasound probe to visualize and map the heart. (3-D intracardiac ultrasound probes are being developed which would provide real-time 3-D imaging and navigating.)

From a patient’s perspective, should you try to find a larger facility that has CartoSound rather than one that only uses 2-D fluoroscopy?

Doctors using CartoSound would seem to have better imaging tools to do ablations. But doctors using fluoroscopy also get good results.

Computed Tomography (CT) can also be used to obtain detailed images of the left atrium. Rotational Angiography uses standard fluoroscopic equipment to obtain 3-D CT-like images while rotating around the patient. (Posted: February 19, 2011)

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Last updated: Sunday, February 15, 2015

AF Symposium 2015 Brief Reports by Steve S. Ryan, PhD

20th Annual AF Symposium

by Steve S. Ryan, PhD

This overview should give you a sense of the topics floating through the three days in Orlando and the over sixty presentations by fifty A-Fib experts and researchers. (Most recent brief reports listed first)

AF Symposium: My Brief Reports

 The Novel Oral Anticoagulants: Xarelto Best Seller; Dr. Daniel Singer
 Stimulating the Front Ear Flap Inhibits A-Fib—Research by Dr. Warren Jackman
 Dr. Ruskin Asked: Can Anyone in A-Fib Really Be Asymptomatic?
 The Rhythmia 3-Dimensional Mapping System (Live from Leipzig via Satellite) 
 LAA Occlusion Devices: Is the Watchman Device Dead in the Water?
 FDA ‘Easy Feasibility Study’ (EFS 
 Reversal Agents for the New Anticoagulants (NOACs)? 
 Female Gender: Is it a Risk Factor for Stroke?
 Living in A-Fib More Dangerous Than Having an Ablation
 Rotors! Rotors! Rotors! Sizzling Topic but No Consensus
 Holistic Approach to Health: Great Results Dealing with Obesity
 Atrial Esophageal Fistula: A Case Study
 Anticoagulation Case Study: Dilemma for 92-year-old With Paroxysmal A-Fib
 Ablation Without X-Ray or Fluoroscopy (Live via Satellite)
 From Beijing: Strange Chinese Case (Live via Satellite)
 Ablation & Closing Off the Left Atrial Appendage in the Same Procedure (Live via Satellite)
 Contact Force Sensing and Jet Ventilation (Live Satellite Presentation)
 Non-Invasive Electrocardiographic Imaging—ECGI—CardioInsight
 Fibrosis and A-Fib: Continuing Research on Sheep

The Rhythmia 3-Dimensional Mapping System (Live from Leipzig via Satellite)

Rhythmia 3-Dimensional Mapping image

Image from Rhythmia 3-Dimensional Mapping system by Medtronic

Live Via Satellite TV icon(Please be advised that the Symposium organizers go to great lengths not to identify or unfairly publicize one device over another. When writing these reports I often have to do a good deal of research to correctly identify and describe particular devices that are demonstrated, as a service to readers. But this in no way implies or suggests that one device is superior to another.)

Dr. Gerhard Hindricks of the University of Leipzig in Germany gave a dynamic presentation of a catheter ablation of a 46-year-old female with paroxysmal A-Fib using the Rhythmia 3-dimensional multipolar mapping system by Boston Scientific. Along with his colleagues Drs. Andreas Bollmann and Jedrzej Kosiuk, they used the Rhythmia special basket catheter to generate a 3-D map of electrogram voltages and activation times. To me it seemed amazingly fast. The eight-splined bidirectional catheter produced 1,000 data points per minute. In what seemed like only a few passes, they produced a 3-D color reconstruction of the patient’s left atrium.

The actual ablation was routine. They terminated the A-Fib into sinus rhythm without having to use Electrocardioversion. But they found that the PV isolation was incomplete. Using the same Rhythmia 3-D mapping catheter, they were easily and quickly able to locate the gap in the Left Superior PV and ablate it.

LAA Occlusion Devices: Is the Watchman Device Dead in the Water?

Dr. Vivek Reddy from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City gave a very well referenced and persuasive presentation on the Watchman device which closes off the Left Atrial Appendage to prevent clots and strokes. The theory behind the Watchman device is that most A-Fib clots originate in the Left Atrial Appendage (LAA). The Watchman closes off the LAA where 90-95% of A-Fib strokes come from. It’s a very low risk procedure that takes as little as 20 minutes to install. Afterward, you would usually not need to be on blood thinners. (For more, see my article, The Watchman Device: The Alternative to Blood Thinners).

Dr. Reddy certainly persuaded me that the FDA should approve the Watchman device. Dr. Reddy, earlier in Washington, had made the same persuasive arguments before the FDA.

Dr. Andrew Farb from the FDA took the bull by the horns and gave his perspective on the various LAA Closure (Occlusion) Devices. But as one would expect, he didn’t indicate how the FDA would rule on the Watchman device, since deliberations were still ongoing.

After his presentation, I asked him several pointed questions about this, but he was, of course, careful not to comment about current FDA deliberations. My guess? If body language, momentum, mood of the presentations, and more importantly recent research indicate anything, the Watchman device probably will not be approved by the FDA.

There was a palpable sense of sadness at the end of these presentations. The attendees realized that the game may be over for the Watchman device. I hope I am wrong, since the Watchman device would be an important tool to help A-Fib patients. Once the FDA rules and the current clinical trials of the Watchman device end, you will probably have to go to Canada or overseas to get a Watchman device installed.

Watchman May Win FDA Approval

Updated March 13, 2015: The Watchman Device by Boston Scientific finally wins FDA approval

In my earlier brief reports on the Orlando AF Symposium, based on the recent research and the FDA presentation, I said the Watchman device probably won’t be approved in the US. I’m happy to say that I am most likely wrong.

At the LAA Symposium 2015 in Marina del Rey, CA, it was suggested that the Watchman device may be approved by the middle of this year. One presenter described how the FDA chairman talked with several people who were going to Canada to have the Watchman device installed. He seemed embarrassed that the Watchman was available everywhere in the world but not in the US and said that it has to be approved.

Other doctors I talked with at the LAA Symposium were of the same opinion. Presenters described how clinical trials for other LAA closure devices were on hold so that they could get approved in comparison to the Watchman (Non-Inferiority Trials). Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy of the University of Kansas Medical Center said that we are at a “tipping point” for the (A-Fib) industry.

FDA ‘Easy Feasibility Study’ (EFS)

As everyone, including the FDA, is well aware, A-Fib innovations usually start in Europe where they are more easily approved. Then only later do they move to the US for FDA approval, since the FDA generally requires more data than European regulators.

Drs. Jun Dong and Andrew Farb from the FDA described the FDA’s ‘Easy Feasibility Study’ (EFS) program where medical device innovations could be evaluated  in the US without having to go to Europe first. He encouraged researchers and attendees to take advantage of the new EFS program. This is major news and may make the development of A-Fib innovations much easier to accomplish in the US.

For further information, contact: Andrew Farb, Email: Andrew.farb@fda.hss.gov. 301-796-6317

Reversal Agents for the New Anticoagulants (NOACs)?

Dr. Luigi Di Biase from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, NY and Dr. Daniel Singer from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston each described potentially great developments in reversal agents for apixaban (Eliquis) and rivaroxaban (Xarelto).

Dr. Di Biase described studies where leaving people on uninterrupted rivaroxaban and apixaban before, during and after an ablation dramatically reduced the amount of silent thromboembolic lesions and were as safe as warfarin with regards to stroke and TIAs. (This didn’t work with dabigatran [Pradaxa].) But if patients develop bleeding or effusion during the ablation, they are in trouble because there is no direct reversal agent as there is for warfarin. He has used Factor IV as an indirect reversal agent. Dr. Singer also described how Factor IV was used as a reversal agent for apixaban.

But there are new reversal agents for apixaban and rivaroxaban which promise to completely reverse the effects of these two drugs in less than four minutes. The FDA is speeding up studies on these reversal agents. But one never knows when or if the FDA will approve them.

Female Gender: Is it a Risk Factor for Stroke?

Dr. John Day of the Intermountain Heart Institute in Murray, UT (and recently elected president of the Heart Rhythm Society) may be the first A-Fib leader to publicly question whether women should be given one point on the stroke risk CHA2DS2-VASc scale just because of their gender. Many doctors have said this in a circumspect way. Dr. Eric Prystowsky in a presentation at last year’s AHS meeting thought that most doctors would agree with Dr. Day, “as long as there wasn’t a camera focused on them.” He gave the example of a 45-year-old woman in good health and a 45-year-old man with hypertension who according to current guidelines should both be given one point on the stroke risk CHA2DS2-VASc score.

Editor’s Comments:
As readers of A-Fib.com, you know that’s been my opinion ever since the original European guidelines came out. Women in their child-bearing years are much less at risk of stroke because of the blood-thinning effect of losing blood each month. And even after menopause women have less risk of stroke. But eventually they do have more strokes. But not because of an innate inferiority, but because women live longer than men. Stroke is age related. An observational Danish registry study documents this.
For more, see The Denmark Study: Women in A-Fib Not at Greater Risk of Stroke Contrary to CHA2DS2-VASc Guidelines!) (Be advised that the original European guidelines were written by doctors with major conflicts of interest.) These guidelines may be a not so very subtle form of gender bias.

Living in A-Fib More Dangerous Than Having an Ablation

Living in A-Fib is more dangerous than having an ablation, according to Dr. Josef Kautzner from Prague, the Czech Republic. Studies have documented that the adverse effects of living in A-Fib, having to take A-Fib drugs and anticoagulants for life are both pragmatically and statistically worse than having an ablation. Dr. Kautzner discussed how A-Fib can cause or is associated with silent brain lesions and dementia. Any time you go into a hospital is a risk. And no one would say that a catheter ablation is a walk in the park. But an ablation is a low risk procedure, though not risk free. The risk is similar to having your tubes tied. The possible adverse effects of an ablation procedure (like bleeding at the groin) are generally temporary, unlike the lasting, permanent damage you can do to your heart, body and brain by living in A-Fib for years.

Rotors! Rotors! Rotors! Sizzling Topic but No Consensus

The most hotly discussed topic at this year’s symposium was rotors. The opinions expressed about rotors were at times very heated, more than I had ever seen at an AF Symposium. Dr. Shih-Ann Chen of Taipei, Taiwan disagreed with Dr. Sanjiv Narayan of Stanford, CA about the basic concepts of rotors and how they should be defined. Dr. Ravi Mandapati of UCLA and Loma Linda University disagreed with Dr. Narayan which was all the more striking in that he had worked with Dr. Narayan when he was at UCLA. Dr. Pierre Jais of Bordeaux, France said that the FIRM mapping system misses 40% of the atrium area.

Drs. Haissaguerre and Jais from Bordeaux and Dr. Sebastien Knecht of Brussels, Belgium gave presentations on how they were using the CardioInsight body surface mapping vest to perform ablations of “drivers” at many different centers, while Dr. Karl-Heinz Kuck from Hamburg, Germany using a different body surface mapping system said that he couldn’t ablate rotors. Dr. Narayan says the FIRM system finds a maximum of 2-3 rotors in the atria, while other systems find as many as seven. The FIRM system says rotors are usually relatively stable and can last as long as 30 seconds while others say they rotate in one fixed spot for only one or two rotations, that they tend to migrate within a certain area.

The presenters obviously didn’t share a consensus of basic concepts of what rotors are, how they work, their importance in A-Fib, how they should be correctly identified, used, and ablated. (It seems to me the Bordeaux group has the best understanding and pragmatic use of rotors. They refer to “rotors” and focal sources as “drivers.”) But the CardioInsight system Bordeaux uses isn’t currently available or isn’t being tested in the US.

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Holistic Approach to Health: Great Results Dealing with Obesity

Obesity was one of the most often discussed topics. There is a growing consensus among EPs that it isn’t enough to just give obese patients a catheter ablation while not dealing with their obesity. If the obesity isn’t dealt with, their A-Fib is very likely to re-occur. A-Fib will develop in other spots that haven’t been ablated. The condition (obesity) that triggered or caused the A-Fib will trigger or cause it again, if it isn’t taken care of.

Dr. Prashanthan Sanders of Adelaide, Australia described the great results he is getting in his clinic which includes a weight loss program and counseling. He convinces his overweight patients to buy into the program, lose weight, and keep it off. The program works so well that just by losing weight patients become A-Fib free. This program is a holistic approach to health and also is developed to work for diabetes, sleep apnea, hypertension, binge drinking and smoking.

Dr. Sanders foresees a world where some patients become A-Fib free simply by changing their life style, where they don’t have to have a catheter ablation to become A-Fib free.

Many other doctors commented that A-Fib treatment at many centers today includes or should include much more than A-Fib ablation and drugs. A-Fib centers should have nutritionists, exercise therapists, sleep apnea specialists, etc. as part of their A-Fib program.

Atrial Esophageal Fistula: A Case Study

Dr. John Day of the Intermountain Heart Institute in the Challenging Cases Discussion described his experience with the dreaded Atrial Esophageal Fistula. Though very rare, this is one of the few possible complications of a catheter ablation that can kill you. An ablation, if not done with caution, can irritate and damage the esophagus which often lies right next to the heart. Over 2-3 weeks stomach acid can eat through this damaged area to produce a hole or fistula from the esophagus into the heart.

As soon as Dr. Day saw this patient, he knew it was a fistula and immediately called surgeons and a GI doctor. All the surgeons were doing operations and didn’t want to do the surgery in the EP lab. Dr. Day described how he and his colleagues ran down the hospital hallway to the operating room while giving the patient a transfusion and at the same time pumping out the blood escaping from his heart.

The GI doctor got there first and put in a stent in the esophagus to plug the hole. There was lots of discussion as to whether this was the best approach, but it worked. The patient survived but had to spend a month in the hospital.

This cautionary and very dramatic tale certainly got the attention of all the attendees. No matter how rare a fistula is, every EP and A-Fib center must have an established protocol in place to deal with it. I remember Dr. Hugh Calkins in a previous Symposium advising, “There are only two kinds of EPs—those who have not had an Atrial Esophageal Fistula and those who have!” (Dr. Calkins’ patient with fistula also survived.)

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Anticoagulation Case Study: Dilemma for 92-year-old With Paroxysmal A-Fib

Dr. Peter Kowey of Lankenau Hospital in Winnewood, PA described a case that illustrates the kind of dilemma both doctors and patients often have to face. A 92-year-old woman with paroxysmal A-Fib who had been treated for many years with warfarin had some bruising and nuisance bleeding, but never anything major.

Dr. Kowey thought that ethically he should tell her about the different new anticoagulants which may be superior to warfarin, then see if she wanted to change. She went with apixaban (Eliquis), then six months later had a stroke even though she was taking apixaban properly and conscientiously. Happily, she made an almost full recovery. She returned to warfarin which had worked for her in the past and which she was comfortable using.

Editor’s Comments:
One of the reasons Dr. Kowey discussed the new anticoagulants with his 92-year-old patient was because warfarin is considered more apt to cause bleeding in older patients. The newer anticoagulants in clinical trials caused less bleeding. But we don’t have much data from the clinical trials on people over 90 years old.
Can we say that apixaban didn’t work or was ineffective? No. Anticoagulants reduce but do not totally eliminate the risk of an A-Fib stroke. Just because she had a stroke doesn’t mean apixaban didn’t work.
Dr. Jeremy Ruskin pointed out that there has never been and probably never will be a head-to-head comparison of the three new anticoagulants. But in my opinion apixaban (Eliquis) appears to have tested better and is safer than the others
For more, see my 2013 BAFS articles, The New Anticoagulants (NOACs) and Warfarin vs. Pradaxa and the Other New Anticoagulants.

Ablation Without X-Ray or Fluoroscopy (Live via Satellite)

Live Via Satellite TV iconIn the satellite case live presentations, Drs. Rodney Horton and Amin Al-Ahmad from the Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute in Austin, TX surprised us by doing an ablation without wearing the standard lead aprons to prevent fluoroscopy exposure. Even more surprising was one of the lab assistants who was pregnant. She could work on the ablation because no fluoroscopy was used. The doctors did the whole ablation using ICE (Intracardiac Echo) and 3D mapping. They showed for example how ICE can be used to thread the catheter up into the heart and into the left atrium. Dr. Horton said that not having to wear those heavy lead aprons would probably add 5-10 years to his ablation career.

(They didn’t wear surgical masks during the ablation which was surprising to me. I will write them for an explanation.)

From Beijing: Strange Chinese Case (Live via Satellite)

Live Via Satellite TV iconThe live satellite case from Beijing, China was technically flawless and probably a first of its kind. But it wasn’t much of a learning experience for the attendees. The Chinese EPs only used one catheter and had to frequently pull out the mapping catheter and replace it with the ablation catheter, etc. When the expert panel asked them questions, the Chinese EPs either didn’t understand or simply didn’t answer them. They seemed very uncomfortable. It seemed like a throwback to ablation techniques of 20 years ago.

Ablation and Closing Off the Left Atrial Appendage in the Same Procedure (Live via Satellite)

Live Via Satellite TV iconDrs. Claudio Tondo, Gaetano Fassini, Massimo Moltrasio, and Antonio Dello Russo from Milan, Italy showed how they do a catheter ablation for A-Fib and install the Watchman device in the same procedure, when it’s needed. They do the ablation procedure first. Then when the patient is in sinus rhythm, they install the Watchman device. (This can’t be done in the US, because the Watchman device hasn’t received FDA approval. In later discussions including representatives of the FDA, there was an all too real possibility that the Watchman will never receive FDA approval.)

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Contact Force Sensing and Jet Ventilation (Live Satellite Presentation)

Image of the TactiCath Quartz irrigated ablation catheter with EnSite Contact Force Module (Photo St. Jude Medical, Inc.)

TactiCath Quartz irrigated ablation catheter with EnSite Contact Force Module (Photo St. Jude Medical, Inc.)

Live Via Satellite TV icon Drs. Kevin Heist and Moussa Mansour from Massachusetts General in Boston showed in a live case how they used a Contact Force Sensing catheter combined with Jet Ventilation. (There are two Contact Force Sensing catheters approved by the FDA—the ThermoCool Smart Touch device by Biosense Webster (approved Feb. 24, 2014) and the TactiCath Quartz Contact Force Ablation Catheter by St. Jude Medical (approved Oct. 27, 2014). This live case used the TactiCath catheter but didn’t imply or suggest it is superior to the ThermoCool catheter. For a description of each, see my 2014 AF Symposium report The New Era of Catheter Ablation Technology: Force Sensing Catheters.

This combination of Force Sensing Catheter with Jet Ventilation for RF ablation probably represents the most advanced RF ablation strategy available today. Jet Ventilation doesn’t stop the heart from beating as in bypass surgery. But to this observer it seemed to put the heart in a type of slow motion with a lot less movement than when the heart is beating in normal sinus rhythm. You could really see a difference when they turned the Jet Ventilation off and on. Slowing down the heart like this helps the ablation doctor make lesions in hard-to-access areas and makes it easier to hold the catheter steady and apply the right contact pressure.

Non-Invasive Electrocardiographic Imaging—ECGI—CardioInsight

Drs. Michel Haissaguerre and Pierre Jais from Bordeaux/LYRIC gave presentations on the ECGI system. The day before their ablation, the patient lies down on his/her back and a technician places a vest-like device with 256 electrodes over his/her chest and stomach. These electrodes combine with rapid CT (Computed Tomography) scans to produce a very detailed 3D color map of the heart. (For a detailed description and discussion of the ECGI system, see 2013 BAFS: Non-Invasive Electrocardiographic Imaging [ECG]) The system automatically detects rotors and foci and computes them into a “Cumulative Map” or movie. These driver regions are ranked, based on statistical prevalence.

Then, Dr. Sebastien Knecht from CHU Brugmann, Brussels, Belgium, described the AFACART trial design and preliminary results using the CardioInsight ECGI system. Many centers in Europe including four in Germany are now using the CardioInsight. Requiring very little training, technicians and EPs using the CardioInsight system are getting similar great results like the Bordeaux group. Though these studies just started, it looks like the CardioInsight ECGI mapping and ablation system is poised to revolutionize the way EPs map and perform ablations.

Fibrosis and A-Fib: Continuing Research on Sheep

Dr. Jose Jalife of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI, continued his exciting research on fibrosis and A-Fib. In previous Symposiums Dr. Jalife demonstrated how A-Fib produces fibrosis. When he paced sheep into A-Fib, their hearts became fibrotic within a very short time. The markers of fibrosis (collagen and scarring) increased progressively as the sheep went from paroxysmal to persistent A-Fib. (See A-Fib Produces Fibrosis—Experimental and Real-World Data.)

Fibrosis is tissue that has fiber-like characteristics which develop in place of the normal smooth walls of the heart. Fibrotic tissue is scarred, immobile, basically dead tissue with reduced or no blood flow and no transport function. It results in a loss of atrial muscle mass. Over time it makes the heart stiff, less flexible and weak, overworks the heart, reduces pumping efficiency and leads to other heart problems. Fibrosis, up to now, was considered permanent and irreversible. But Dr. Jalife gave his sheep a Gal-3 inhibitor GM-CT-01 that actually prevented and reduced fibrosis! (For his previous presentations, see 2014 BAFS: The Holy Grail: Preventing A-Fib by a GAL-3 Inhibitor.)

In his continuing studies of sheep, Dr. Jalife found that fibrosis predicts recurrence, and that fibrosis can not be reversed if it is well established, even with GAL-3 Inhibitors.

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Last updated: Thursday, January 21, 2016 

FAQs A-Fib Treatments: Catheter Ablation Procedures

Catheter ablation illustration at A-Fib.com

Catheter ablation

Atrial Fibrillation patients seeking a cure and relief from their symptoms often have many questions about catheter ablation procedures. Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions by patients and their families. (Click on the question to jump to the answer)

1. “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?

2. “With the recent improvements in Pulmonary Vein ablation techniques, should I wait for a better technique? I’m getting by with my Atrial Fibrillation.”

3. “Are there different types of “Pulmonary Vein Ablation”? Are they different from “Pulmonary Vein Isolation?

4. I’’ve heard of Cryo (freezing) catheters for PVA(I) ablations. Are they good or better than the RF (Radio Frequency) catheters for ablations?

5. “How dangerous is a Pulmonary Vein Ablation procedure? What are my risks?

6. “During the ablation procedure A-Fib doctors actually burn within the heart with RF energy. How does this burning and scarring affect how the heart functions? Should athletes, for example, be concerned that their heart won’t function as well after an ablation?

7. “How dangerous is the fluoroscopy radiation during an ablation? I know I need a Pulmonary Vein Ablation (Isolation) procedure to stop my A-Fib—A-Fib destroys my life. I can’t work or exercise, and live in fear of the next attack. Antiarrhythmic meds cause me bad side effects. But I’m worried about being exposed to radiation during the ablation.

8. “I have serious heart problems and chronic heart disease along with Atrial Fibrillation. Would a Pulmonary Vein Ablation help me? Should I get one?

9. “What is an enlarged heart? Does it cause A-Fib?. I was told I can’t have a Pulmonary Vein Ablation (Isolation) procedure because I have an enlarged heart. Why is that?”

10. “I am 82 years old. Am I too old to have a successful Pulmonary Vein Ablation? What doctors or medical centers perform PVAs on patients my age?

11. “Since my PVI, I have been A-Fib free with no symptoms for 32 months. What do you think my chances of staying A-Fib free are?”

12. “How long before you know a Pulmonary Vein Ablation procedure is a success? I just had a PVA(I). I’ve got bruising on my leg, my chest hurts, and I have a fever at night. I still don’t feel quite right. Is this normal?”

13. I want to read exactly what was done during my Pulmonary Vein Ablation. Where can I get the specifics? What records are kept?

14. “What is the typical length of a catheter ablation today versus when you had your catheter ablation in 1998 in Bordeaux, France? What makes it possible?

15. “After my successful Pulmonary Vein Ablation, do I still need to be on blood thinners like Coumadin or aspirin?

16. “I’ve had a successful ablation. For protection against potential stroke risk if my A-Fib re-occurs, which if better—81 mg baby aspirin or 325 mg?

17. Since my ablation, my A-Fib feels worse and is more frequent than before, though I do seem to be improving each week. My doctor said I shouldn’t worry, that this is normal. Is my ablation a failure?

18. “I love to exercise and I’m having a PVA. Everything I read says ‘You can resume normal activity in a few days.’ Can I return to what’s ‘normal’ exercise for me?

19. I have Chronic Atrial Fibrillation (the heart remains in A-Fib all the time). Am I a candidate for a Pulmonary Vein Ablation? Will it cure me? What are my chances of being cured compared to someone with Paroxysmal (occasional) A-Fib?

20. “I’m 80 and have been in Chronic (persistent/permanent) A-Fib for 3 years. I actually feel somewhat better now than when I had occasional (Paroxysmal) A-Fib. Is it worth trying to get an ablation?

21.“Will an ablation take care of both A-Fib and Flutter? Does one cause the other? Which comes first A-Fib or Flutter?

22. Are there other areas besides the pulmonary veins with the potential to turn into A-Fib hot spots? I had a successful catheter ablation and feel great. Could they eventually be turned on and put me back into A-Fib

23. “During an ablation, how much danger is there of developing a clot? What are the odds? How can these clots be prevented?

24. “I was told that I will have to take an anticoagulant for about 2-3 months after my ablation. After all, if fibrillation episodes are reduced or eliminated after an ablation, shouldn’t there be even less need for a prescription anticoagulant rather than more?

25. “I’m six months post CryoBalloon ablation and very pleased. But my resting heart rate remains higher in the low 80s. Why? I’ve been told it’s not a problem. I’m 64 and exercise okay, but I’ve had to drop interval training.”

26. “I’ve heard good things about the French Bordeaux group. Didn’t Prof. Michel Häissaguerre invent catheter ablation for A-Fib? Where can I get more info about them? How much does it cost to go there?

27. “I’m a life-long runner. I recently got intermittent A-Fib. Does ablation (whether RF or Cryo) affect the heart’s blood pumping output potential because of the destruction of cardiac tissue? And if so, how much? One doc said it does.

Last updated: Thursday, September 8, 2016

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Radiation Exposure During Ablation: How to Protect Yourself from Damage

Floroscopy image of catheter placement

Floroscopy image of catheter placement

By Steve S. Ryan, PhD, January 2012

Exposure to radioactivity during an ablation used to be a legitimate concern. (Doctors and nurses wore lead aprons during an ablation.) Back in 2003, a typical A-Fib ablation resulted in around 50 minutes of fluoroscopy time.1 One hour of fluoroscopy imaging is associated with a lifetime three-in-ten thousand chance (0.03%) of developing a fatal malignancy, and a risk of passing on a genetic defect of 20 per 1 million births,2These risks were considered relatively small compared to the risks of being in A-Fib, antiarrhythmic drug therapy, and/or surgery.3

Doctors follow directives which limit the amount of radiation you can be exposed to during an ablation. If you get close to exceeding these limits, they will stop the ablation (though this rarely happens).

Today Less or No Fluoroscopy

But many centers today use much less or no fluoroscopy at all. Instead many use 3D non-fluoroscopy (no radiation) imaging techniques such as Intracardiac Echocardiography (ICE), and Magnetic Resonant Imaging (MRI). You need to check with your A-Fib center as to how much radiation their typical A-Fib ablation patient is exposed to. The radiation dose for a typical A-Fib ablation is estimated to be 18.4 mSv.4 However, the radiation amount at your A-Fib center will vary depending on what type of imaging equipment they use.

Once you learn what amount of ablation radiation you might be exposed to at your A-Fib center, then you can compare it to the following to determine if you should be concerned:

Average Background Radiation/year 2.4 mSv
Chest X-Ray Radiation 0.02-0.2 mSv
Full-mouth Dental X-Ray 0.03-0.2 mSv
Mammogram 0.7 mSv
Spinal X-Ray Radiation 1.5 mSv
Heart CT Scan Radiation (100-600 Chest X-rays) 12.0 mSv
25.5 min. fluoroscopy during an A-Fib Ablation 15.2 mSv

[The author did a very unscientific survey of the A-Fib medical centers in his area. The average seemed to be 10-20 minutes of fluoroscopy time [for those who used fluoroscopy] for an A-Fib ablation, but more complicated cases could expose patients to 60(+) minutes of fluoroscopy time.]

Before and After:  Protecting Yourself from Radiation Damage

You can take measures before and after your ablation to help protect yourself from radiation damage. Since much of the cancer-causing damage from ionizing radiation is from hydroxyl free radicals, it’s recommended to take antioxidant supplements to neutralize them.

Before and after your ablation, it’s recommended to take antioxidant supplements to neutralize hydroxyl free radicals.

A typical plan is to take the following natural supplements every six hours for at least 24 hours before and after your radiation exposure. These are available without a prescription from health food stores. Check with your doctor before taking any supplements.

  1. Vitamin C 1000 mg
  2. Lipoic Acid 400 mg
  3. N-Acetyl Cysteine 200 mg
  4. Melatonin 3 mg

Do Low Doses of Radioactivity Combat Cancer?

In 2004, the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons published an amazing study of radiation exposure that calls into question the prevailing “linear no-threshold” (LNT) theory of radiation.5

But bear in mind that, even a one hour-long exposure to fluoroscopy, is a relatively small risk compared to the risks of being in A-Fib, antiarrhythmic meds, and/or surgery.

The story starts 20 years earlier in 1983 when 180 apartment building were built in Taiwan. But somehow highly radioactive Cobalt-60 was mixed into the concrete. The 10,000 people who lived in these apartments for 9-20 years received an average of 74 millesieverts (mSv) of radiation a year (a typical catheter ablation using fluoroscopy produces around 15 mSv6 but much less for non-x-ray imaging systems).

Amazingly, the cancer rates of people living in these highly radioactive buildings were 3.6% of prevailing Taiwanese rates. This is a reduction in cancer rates of 96.4%. This phenomenon is perhaps explained by the theory of hormesis which holds that intermediate levels of radioactivity actually stimulate life and improve health.

Editor’s Note: The nuclear theory that any level of radiation is cumulatively damaging may not be valid (the Linear No Threshold theory). The levels of radiation received during a typical catheter ablation may not be dangerous, but may even be healthful.

The levels of radiation received during a typical catheter ablation may not be dangerous, but may even be healthful.

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Return to Index of Articles: Catheter Ablation

Last updated: Tuesday, August 23, 2016


References    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Macle, L et al. “Radiation Exposure During Radiofrequency Catheter Ablation for Atrial Fibrillation.” Pacing and Clinical Electrophysiology, March 28, 2003. Volume 26, Issue 1p2, Pages 288-291.
  2. Shapira, AR. “Catheter Ablation of Supraventricular Arrhythmias and Atrial Fibrillation.” American Family Physician, November 15, 2009, p. 1089. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2009/1115/p1089.html
  3. Calkins, H. et al. “Radiation exposure during radiofrequency catheter ablation of accessory atrioventricular connections.” Circulation, Vol. 84, 2376-2382, 1991.
  4. Shapira, A R. Catheter Ablation of Supraventricular Arrhythmias and Atrial Fibrillation. American Family Physician, November 15, 2009, p. 1089. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2009/1115/p1089.html.
  5. Chen, W. et al. Is Chronic Radiation an Effective Prophylaxis Against Cancer? Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Spring 2004 Vol 9, Issue 1, p6. Last accessed Sept. 13, 2012 http://www.jpands.org/jpands0901.htm
  6. Efstathopoulos, EP, et al. “Patient and staff radiation dosimetry during cardiac electrophysiology studies and catheter ablation procedures: a comprehensive analysis.” Europace (The European Society of Cardiology), 2006 8(6): 443-448; doi:10.1093/europace/eul041

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