• catheter ablation;
  • atrial fibrillation;
  • esophagus

Background: Catheter ablation has become the first line of therapy in patients with symptomatic recurrent, drug-refractory atrial fibrillation (AF). The occurrence of an atrioesophageal fistula is a rare but serious complication after AF-ablation procedures. This risk is even present during segmental pulmonary vein (PV) ablation procedures because the esophagus does frequently have a very close anatomical relationship to the right or left PV ostia. The aim of the present study was to analyze whether the exclusion of areas adjacent to the esophagus does have a significant effect on the success rates after segmental pulmonary vein ablation procedures.

Methods: Forty-three consecutive patients with symptomatic paroxysmal AF were enrolled in this study. In all patients, a segmental PV ablation procedure was performed. The procedures were facilitated by a 3D real-time visualization of the circumferential mapping catheter placed in the pulmonary veins using the NavX™ system (St. Jude Medical, St. Paul, MN, USA; open irrigated tip ablation catheter; 43°C; 30 W). In 21 patients, a complete ostial PV isolation was attempted regardless of the anatomical relationship between the ablation sites and the esophagus (group A). In the remaining 22 patients, the esophagus was marked by a stomach tube and areas adjacent to the esophagus were excluded from the ablation procedure (group B). After discharge, patients were scheduled for repeated visits at the arrhythmia clinic at 1, 3, and 6 months after the ablation procedure.

Results: The segmental pulmonary vein ablation procedure could be performed as planned in all patients. In group A, all pulmonary veins could be isolated successfully in 14 out of 21 patients (67%). A mean number of 3.7 pulmonary veins (SD ± 0.5 PVs) were isolated per patient. The main reasons for an incomplete PV isolation were: small diameter of the PVs, side branches close to the ostium, or poorly accessible PV ostia. In group B, all PVs could be isolated successfully in only 12 out of 22 patients (55%; P = 0.54). A mean number of 3.2 PVs (SD ± 0.9 PVs) were isolated per patient (P = 0.05). This was mostly due to a close anatomical relationship to the esophagus. The ablation strategy had to be modified in 16/22 patients in group B because of a close anatomical relationship between the left (n = 10) or right (n = 6) PV ostia and the esophagus. After 3 months, the percentage of patients free from an AF recurrence was not significantly different between the two groups (90% vs 95%; P = 0.61). After 6 months, there was no significant difference between the success rates either (81% vs 82%; P = 1.0). There were no major complications in both groups.

Conclusions: The exclusion of areas adjacent to the esophagus results in a moderately higher percentage of incompletely isolated PVs. However, it does not have a significant effect on the AF recurrence rate during short-term and mid-term follow-up.