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Catheter Ablation continued...

Catheter ablation has its own risks, as well. Overall, about 5% of patients have some type of complication, including bleeding where the catheter enters the groin or when it perforates the heart, as well as a 1% risk of stroke.  And in very rare cases -- fewer than 1 in 1,000 -- an esophageal fistula can develop, which is an opening between the heart’s left atrium and the esophagus. “That’s a life-threatening complication and is fatal about half of the time,” says Wylie.

In some cases, such as if a person is already undergoing heart surgery, doctors may skip the catheter approach and choose to do the ablation during the surgery itself.

Whatever the treatment, the main reason to treat atrial fibrillation itself is to improve your quality of life. “Although that might change in the near future, we cannot now offer patients, for instance, the ability to go off blood-thinning medications if their AFib is stabilized. There might still be a need for those even if they are no longer in AFib,” says Whang.

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