JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW
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Esophageal injury, perforation, and fistula formation following atrial fibrillation ablation.

BACKGROUND: Esophageal perforation and fistula formation are rare but serious complications following atrial fibrillation ablation. In this review article, we outline the incidence, pathophysiology, predictors, and preventative strategies of this dreaded complication.

METHODS: We conducted an electronic search in 10 databases/electronic search engines to access relevant publications. All articles reporting complications following atrial fibrillation ablation, including esophageal injury and fistula formation, were included for systematic review.

RESULTS: A total of 130 manuscripts were identified for the final review process. The overall incidence of esophageal injury following atrial fibrillation ablation was significantly higher with thermal ablation modalities (radiofrequency 5-40%, cryoballoon 3-25%, high-intensity focused ultrasound < 10%) as opposed to non-thermal ablation modalities (no cases reported to date). The incidence of esophageal perforation and fistula formation with the use of thermal ablation modalities is estimated to occur in less than 0.25% of all atrial fibrillation ablation procedures. The use of luminal esophageal temperature monitoring probe and mechanical esophageal deviation showed protective effect toward reducing the incidence of this complication. The prognosis is very poor for patients who develop atrioesophageal fistula, and the condition is rapidly fatal without surgical intervention.

CONCLUSIONS: Esophageal perforation and fistula formation following atrial fibrillation ablation are rare complications with poor prognosis. Various strategies have been proposed to protect the esophagus and reduce the incidence of this fearful complication. Pulsed field ablation is a promising new ablation technology that may be the future answer toward reducing the incidence of esophageal complications. The recognition of risk factors and preventative strategies of esophageal injury, perforation, and fistula formation following atrial fibrillation ablation is essential to reduce the incidence of this dreaded complication (online abstract figure).

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