Life-Threatening Complications of Atrial Fibrillation Ablation: 16-Year Experience in a Large Prospective Tertiary Care Cohort



This study sought to assess the incidence and outcomes of life-threatening complications from atrial fibrillation ablations in a high volume center.


With increasing rates of atrial fibrillation ablation procedures, an increase in life-threatening procedure-related complications has been reported despite improvements in technology and ablation strategies.


Between 2000 and 2015, 10,378 patients underwent atrial fibrillation ablation at our institution and were enrolled in a prospectively maintained data registry. We identified all patients who had life-threatening cardiac, neurological, respiratory, or vascular complications to the ablation resulting in death or requiring emergent intervention.


Major life-threatening complications occurred in 100 patients (0.9%). The most common was pericardial effusion requiring pericardiocentesis (0.5%), with 7 (0.07%) requiring emergent surgical repair for cardiac perforation. Stroke occurred in 27 patients (0.3%) with a vast majority having an ischemic stroke (93%) followed by hemorrhagic (3.5%) and ischemic stroke with hemorrhagic conversion (3.5%). The yearly incidence of stroke decreased from an average of 1.1% per year in the first tertile (2000 to 2004) to 0.2% per year in the last 2 tertiles (2005 to 2015). Permanent neurological deficits occurred in 23 patients. Vascular complications causing hemorrhagic shock occurred in 7 patients (0.06%), 5 of whom required urgent surgical intervention. Acute coronary syndrome requiring urgent percutaneous coronary revascularization occurred in 2 patients whereas 1 developed a right coronary artery air embolus. No procedural death or atrio-esophageal fistulae occurred.


In a large quaternary care center, the incidence of life-threatening complications is low. Experienced operators, high volume, continuous quality improvement initiatives, and efficient back-up support have allowed exemplary safety profiles and 0 procedure-related deaths over 16 years.

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Rehman KA, Wazni OM, Barakat AF, et al. JACC Clin Electrophysiol 2019;5:284–91.