Atrial Fibrillation Ablation


What Are The Risks of an Atrial Fibrillation Ablation Procedure?

Radiofrequency ablation for atrial fibrillation has been developed since 2000. It is therefore quite a new procedure and techniques are continuing to improve. Although most people undergoing radiofrequency ablation do not experience any complications, you should be aware of the following possible risks (all of these will be discussed with you). In general it has been estimated that the risk of any complication is between 4% and 6%. While much of this is related to complications related to access into the vein (local bleeding, blood clot or haematoma - large bruise), there can be more serious complications (1-2%). Some of these are listed below.

  • Stroke
  • Damage to the heart wall or artery (this may require urgent open heart surgery to correct)
  • Pulmonary vein stenosis (narrowing the blood vessels that enter the left atrium)
  • Heart attack
  • Damage to the oesophagus (the swallowing tube) as it passes next to the heart. This is thought to be a very rare complication but is often fatal.
  • Damage to the gastric nerve or phrenic nerve
  • Direct trauma to the lung or airways
  • Death - the risk is not known. The risk would be estimated at approximately 1 in 1000
  • Rapid abnormal heart rhythm - in some cases a small electric shock may be required to restore your normal rhythm
  • Pacemaker - there is a very small chance of damage occurring to the heart's normal electrical system. This may be temporary, but permanent damage would result in a pacemaker being inserted at the time of the procedure. This would be very unlikely during this type of procedure.


Do I Need To Undergo This Procedure?

Atrial fibrillation ablation is designed to cure your symptoms and improve your quality of life. However, because the procedure carries a small risk of a major complication we recommend it only to those people having frequent episodes of atrial fibrillation that are having a major impact on their quality of life. We do not recommend the procedure for people who have minor or no symptoms or who feel that the condition represents only a relative minor nuisance. We would also always recommend a trial of medications first as some people will be well controlled on tablets.

Special Note

If there is any chance you may be pregnant, please notify the Cardiovascular Centre and the hospital before your procedure. The procedure is associated with additional risks if you are pregnant.

  • Professor Sanders says...

    Atrial fibrillation is a consequence of several reversible risk factors - high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, sleep apnoea, and excessive alcohol. Your management of atrial fibrillation must include strict control of these risk factors.