Atrioesophageal fistula is a very rare but often fatal late complication of atrial fibrillation ablation procedures resulting from thermal injury to the esophagus and surrounding structures. Causes of death include cerebral air embolism, massive gastrointestinal bleeding, and septic shock. Because of its unusual rate of occurrence, there has not been an uniform approach to either the diagnosis or corrective therapy. This low incidence poses a challenge in strictly determining effective preventive measures during and immediately following posterior wall left atrial ablation. Currently, strategies proposed to prevent esophageal injury include reduced power titration while ablating the posterior left atrial wall, limiting RF delivery time, avoiding overlapping ablation lines as well as monitoring intraluminal esophageal temperature, using conscious sedation rather than general anesthesia for better pain perception, monitoring intraprocedural esophageal position in relation to the posterior left atrium and extensive patient education regarding signs and symptoms of esophageal injury. Early diagnosis is essential to enable therapeutic preventive strategies to minimize the excessive morbidity and mortality associated with this condition. Unfortunately, despite application of such preventive measures, cases of atrial-esophageal fistula have still been reported. If esophageal injury with fistula formation is clinically suspected, a prompt diagnosis and an immediate aggressive intervention including stenting and/or surgical intervention is required for the patient’survival.
Credits: Carlo Pappone; Gabriele Vicedomini; Vincenzo Santinelli