Brief Communication: Atrial–Esophageal Fistulas after Radiofrequency Ablation

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Abstract

Background:

Ablation of atrial fibrillation is generally considered safe and effective. However, atrial–esophageal fistulas have recently been reported as a rare but fatal complication.

Objective:

To describe 9 patients with atrial–esophageal fistulas after ablation for atrial fibrillation.

Design:

Retrospective case series.

Setting:

Institutions where cardiologists performed atrial fibrillation ablation procedures.

Patients:

9 patients with atrial–esophageal fistulas after atrial fibrillation ablation.

Measurements:

Demographic characteristics, mortality, presenting signs and symptoms, and days to presentation.

Results:

Patients presented a mean of 12.3 days (range, 10 to 16 days) after their procedures. Nonspecific symptoms included fever, leukocytosis, and neurologic abnormalities. All patients died. Only 4 patients received correct diagnoses before death, although all patients presented to a physician. In 3 patients, surgical repair was attempted.

Limitations:

Few physicians reported cases, and only approximate numbers of procedures performed by the physicians are known. Thus, the authors could not estimate the incidence of atrial–esophageal fistulas after ablation.

Conclusions:

Formation of atrial–esophageal fistulas is a rare but potentially devastating complication of atrial fibrillation ablation. This disorder may have an indolent presentation and may mimic other disease states, such as stroke or sepsis.

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