Esophageal Injury and Atrioesophageal Fistula Caused by Ablation for Atrial Fibrillation

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Abstract

Esophageal perforation is a dreaded complication of atrial fibrillation ablation that occurs in 0.1% to 0.25% of atrial fibrillation ablation procedures. Delayed diagnosis is associated with the development of atrial-esophageal fistula (AEF) and increased mortality. The relationship between the esophagus and the left atrial posterior wall is variable, and the esophagus is most susceptible to injury where it is closest to areas of endocardial ablation. Esophageal ulcer seems to precede AEF development, and postablation endoscopy documenting esophageal ulcer may identify patients at higher risk for AEF. AEF has been reported with all modalities of atrial fibrillation ablation despite esophageal temperature monitoring. Despite the name AEF, fistulas functionally act 1 way, esophageal to atrial, which accounts for the observed symptoms and imaging findings. Because of the rarity of AEF, evaluation and validation of strategies to reduce AEF remain challenging. A high index of suspicion is recommended in patients who develop constitutional symptoms or sudden onset chest pain that start days or weeks after atrial fibrillation ablation. Early detection by computed tomography scan with oral and intravenous contrast is safe and feasible, whereas performance of esophageal endoscopy in the presence of AEF may result in significant neurological injury resulting from air embolism. Outcomes for esophageal stenting are poor in AEF. Aggressive intervention with skilled cardiac and thoracic surgeons may improve chances of stroke-free survival for all types of esophageal perforation.

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