Atrial-oesophageal fistula following percutaneous radiofrequency catheter ablation of atrial fibrillation: the risk still persists

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Atrial-oesophageal fistula is a serious complication related to ablation of atrial fibrillation. As its occurrence is rare, there is a great lack of information about their mechanisms, incidence, presentations, and treatment. The objective of this manuscript is to present a series of cases of atrial-oesophageal fistula in Brazil, focusing on incidence, clinical presentation, and follow-up.

Methods and results

This is a retrospective multicentre registry of atrial-oesophageal fistula cases that occurred in eight Brazilian centres from 2003 to 2015. Ten cases (0.113%) of atrial-oesophageal fistula were reported in 8863 ablation procedures in the period. Most of the subjects were male (70%) with age 59.6 ± 9.3 years. Eight centres were reference units in atrial fibrillation ablation with an experience over than 200 procedures at the time of fistula occurrence. Oesophageal temperature monitoring was performed in eight cases using coated sensors in six. The first atrial-oesophageal fistula clinical manifestation was typically fever (in six patients), with a median onset time of 16.5 (12-43) days after ablation. There was a delay of 7.8 ± 3.3 days between the first manifestation and the diagnosis in five patients. The treatment was surgical in six cases, clinical in three and stenting in one. Seven patients died (70%) and two developed permanent neurological sequelae.


Atrial-oesophageal fistula remains a serious complication following AF ablation despite the incorporation of protective measures and increased technical experience of the groups. The high morbidity and mortality despite the treatment indicates the need to develop adequate preventive strategies.

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