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 FAQs A-Fib Ablations: Risks

Catheter Ablation

Catheter Ablation

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

As a point of reference, the complication rate for the common Appendectomy is about 18%.4 Catheter ablation has a complication rate of 1%–3% which is comparable to other routine, low-risk procedures such as Tubal Ligation (1%–2%).

A small percentage of PVI patients develop minor complications such as bleeding and bruising at the groin (where the catheters are inserted). This is usually a temporary complication that resolves in two–three weeks.

About 2% of patients develop more serious or major complications such as:

•  Stenosis (constriction or narrowing of the Pulmonary Vein (PV) openings reducing blood flow from the lungs to the heart.) (Increasing rare with today’s ablation procedures which stay away from the PVs.)
•  Stroke
•  Tamponade (blood leaking into the sac around the heart from a catheter puncture.)
•  Atrial-Esophageal Fistula. (Very rare complication) that is often fatal. Over half of patients who develop Fistulas die from them.

Doctors are aware of these dangers and use many techniques to prevent or address complications.

Then, there is the unforeseen, the strange things that happen sometimes in operations—allergic reactions to medications, anesthesia problems (some centers put you under completely, others don’t), “extremely small risk of infection, valve damage, or heart attack” during the procedure. Be assured that doctors and staff monitor you very closely and are prepared to deal with emergencies and complications.

Bottom-line: for most A‑Fib patients, it’s probably safer getting a PVI than not getting one. The long-term risks of living a lifetime in A‑Fib and/or on antiarrhythmic drugs is potentially more damaging than the generally short-term risks of a Pulmonary Vein Isolation. For more detailed information, see Risks Associated with Pulmonary Vein Procedure.

¤  Katkhouda, N., Mason, R. J., Towfigh, S., et al. (2005). Laparoscopic versus open appendectomy: a prospective randomized double-blind study. Annals of surgery , 242 (3). Retrieved Nov 30, 2011. URL
¤  Radiofrequency catheter ablation is considered safe. (2010). AFIB Alliance: Atrial Fibrillation Resource. Retrieved August 01, 2011, from
¤  Professional answers to your atrial fibrillation questions: what are the risks of AF ablation?  Atrial Fibrillation Institute/St. Vincent’s HealthCare. Retrieved August 01, 2011, from
¤  Atrial Fibrillation Educational Material,” University of Pennsylvania, 2001, p.7 “Catheter ablation is a low-risk procedure.”

Return to FAQ Catheter Ablations

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