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. Heart Function: “Does this burning and scarring during the ablation procedure affect how the heart functions? Should athletes, for example, be concerned that their heart won’t function as well after an ablation?”
Related question: “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.”
2. Radiation: “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’m worried about radiation exposure.”
3. Condition of Heart: “What is an enlarged heart? Does it cause A-Fib? I was told I can’t have a catheter ablation because I have an enlarged heart. Why is that?”
Related question: “I have serious heart problems and chronic heart disease along with Atrial Fibrillation. Would a Pulmonary Vein Ablation help me? Should I get one?”
Related question: “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?”
4. Age: “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?”
Related question: “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?“
5. Blanking Period: “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?”
Related question: “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?”
6. O.R. Report: “I want to read exactly what was done during my Pulmonary Vein Ablation. Where can I get the specifics? What records are kept?”
7. Procedure Length: “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?”
8. Clots/Blood Thinners: “After my successful Pulmonary Vein Ablation, do I still need to be on blood thinners like Coumadin, an NOAC or aspirin?”
Related question: “I was told that I will have to take an anticoagulant for about 2-3 months after my ablation. Afterwards shouldn’t there be even less need for a prescription anticoagulant rather than more?”
Related question: “During an ablation, how much danger is there of developing a clot? What are the odds? How can these clots be prevented?”
9. Exercise: “I’m having a PVA and I love to exercise. Everything I read says ‘You can resume normal activity in a few days.’ Can I return to what’s ‘normal’ exercise for me?”
10. Non-PV Triggers: “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?
11. Heart Rate: “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.”
12. The Bordeaux Group: “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?”
13. Cure? “I have Chronic Atrial Fibrillation. 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?”
Related question: “I’ve read that an ablation only treats A-Fib symptoms, that it isn’t a ‘cure’. If I take meds like flecainide which stop all A-Fib symptoms and have no significant side effects, isn’t that a ‘cure?’”
14. Tech Advances: “I’m getting by with my Atrial Fibrillation. With the recent improvements in Pulmonary Vein ablation techniques, should I wait until a better technique is developed?”
Dr. Josef Kautzner’s presentation demonstrated that living with “AF is more dangerous than its ablation” because of the risks of cerebral lesions and cognitive impairment. Small cerebral lesions don’t seem to cause symptoms, but obviously doctors want to avoid creating any kind of lesions on the brain if at all possible.
In MRI tests, a high proportion of A-Fib patients before ablation had silent cerebral infarctions or lesions (60%-80%). But the problem is that similar lesions were detected by MRI even in patients without documented A-Fib.
Therefore, we still do not know how much A-Fib contributes to the development of such lesions. On the other hand, their presence may explain (at least in part) the association between A-Fib and dementia.
Read my AF Symposium summary on how silent brain lesions develop, and proposed strategies to minimize the risk of silent lesions.
by Steve S. Ryan, PhD
In the June/July 2014 issue of The AFIB Report, Managing Editor, Shannon Dickson describes how Dr. Andrea Natale performed an ablation on his friend who was in persistent A-Fib. Shannon was an observer in Dr. Natale’s operating lab at the Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, CA.
“Dragging or Gliding” Ablation technique
Instead of using the dot-by-dot or point-by-point ablation technique commonly used in RF ablation, Dr. Natale positioned the catheter tip at an angle to the tissue and in contact with the Lasso circular mapping catheter and dragged or glided the catheter and Lasso together in one movement. Instead of making vertical downward dot-by-dot burns, he made continuous ablation lines or lesions. (This isn’t really a “new” ablation technique in that Dr. Natale has been perfecting this technique over many years.)
This dragging method allowed him to vary power and force depending on the variable wall thickness as he moved along. One result is potentially less inflammation swelling, which can form more readily around each discrete burn in the dot-by-dot technique. In turn, round dots of inflammation around each burn can potentially result is small gaps forming in between each ‘dot’.
Followup: Shannon Dickson’s writes that Dr. Natale’s ablation was a success and his friend is now A-Fib free!
Dr. Natale’s innovative RF ablation technique for persistent A-Fib patients seems like a major advance in ablation strategy. In addition to making better linear lesions, it’s probably a lot faster than the standard point-by-point RF ablation strategy.
So my next thought is: ‘Is this a technique dependent of the skill of the operator, or can it be taught to all EPs?’ (I will be sure to ask Dr. Natale this question at the next Orlando AF Symposium.)
Once again, I’m amazed that there’s no regulatory body requiring EPs to learn new skills or how to use new, proven equipment. Even if Dr. Natale’s new ablation technique is indeed teachable, it’s probable very few EPs will adopt it.
This is in stark contrast to other professions responsible for human lives. Case in point are commercial airline pilots. Pilots “undergo rigorous, continuing, high stakes assessments and examinations supported by mandatory training and retraining.”
A move in that direction has been started by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). They have begun a maintenance of certification (MOC) in order for a doctor to retain board certification; but physicians who received their board certification prior to this policy change remain certified for life. The American Board of Internal Medicine, the official “certifying” body of a large proportion of doctors in the US, has established a new re certification program which many doctors are up in arms about.
See Larry Huston’s Three Reasons Why You Don’t Need To Feel Sorry For Doctors
Last updated: Friday, February 27, 2015
“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?”
Particularly during ablations for persistent (Chronic) A-Fib, long procedures and extensive ablation are often required. These result in significant scarring and damage to heart tissue. But a study from the French Bordeaux group found “recovery of atrial contractile function” (the heart goes back to beating and contracting normally) in 98% of patients in sinus rhythm after six months of follow-up. But less experienced centers that do extensive ablations do run the risk of compromising the pumping ability and transport function of the left atrium. This was a problem with the original Cox Maze operation and is also a risk with the more extensive surgical approaches.
In general, the less ablation and heart scarring, the better. But it’s encouraging that from this preliminary study, even after extensive ablations, the heart usually returns to normal.
Takahashi Y et al. “How to interpret and identify pulmonary vein recordings with the Lasso catheter.” Heart Rhythm 2006;3:748-750.
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