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Medical Science Monitor Basic Research


Atrio-Esophageal Fistula: A Case Series and Literature Review

Challenging differential diagnosis, Diagnostic / therapeutic accidents, Management of emergency care, Rare disease, Educational Purpose (only if useful for a systematic review or synthesis)

Craig A. Schuring, Luke J. Mountjoy, Ashley B. Priaulx, Robert J. Schneider, Hayden L. Smith, Geoffrey C. Wall, Dipen Kadaria, Amik Sodhi

USA Department of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, TN, USA

Am J Case Rep 2017; 18:847-854

DOI: 10.12659/AJCR.903966

Available online:

Published: 2017-08-01


BACKGROUND: Percutaneous catheter radiofrequency ablation (RFA) and cryoablation of the left atrium and pulmonary vein ostia have become successful therapeutic modalities in the management of atrial fibrillation. Atrio-esophageal fistula is a rare complication. Awareness of complication risk is imperative because without prompt diagnosis and urgent surgical intervention, the outcome is often fatal. We present 3 cases of atrio-esophageal fistula following percutaneous catheter radiofrequency ablation (RFA).
CASE REPORT: Case 1: A 72-year old white male presented 27 days after percutaneous RFA for atrial fibrillation with fever, altered mental status, and melena. Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) revealed a 1-cm defect in the mid-esophagus. Upon thoracotomy, severe hemorrhage ensued from a concomitant injury to the left atrium. Multiple attempts to repair the left atrial perforation were unsuccessful and the patient died. Case 2: A 71-year old white male presented 29 days after percutaneous RFA for atrial fibrillation with fever and tonic-clonic seizure. Recognition of possible atrio-esophageal fistula was considered and confirmed on thoracotomy. Surgical fixation of the left atria and esophagus were performed. The patient survived and was discharged to a skilled care facility. Case 3: A 75-year old white male presented 24 days after percutaneous RFA for atrial fibrillation with chest pain. An echocardiogram revealed a large pericardial effusion and pericardiocentesis was performed. Despite aggressive measures, the patient died. The autopsy demonstrated a communicating esophageal fistula with the right pulmonary vein.
CONCLUSIONS: Clinicians tending to patients who have recently undergone atrial ablation need to be aware of atrio-esophageal fistula as a rare but highly fatal complication.

Keywords: Atrial Fibrillation, Catheter Ablation, Esophageal Fistula, Heart Atria