This article answers the most frequently asked questions regarding laser balloon ablation treatment for atrial fibrillation and includes questions such as "Are all patients suitable?" and "Will I be able to come off my medication?"
- What is laser balloon ablation?
- Is the laser balloon new?
- Is surgery required?
- What are the advantages over other types of AF ablation?
- Are all AF patients suitable?
- Does this mean I can come off my anticoagulants?
- Will I be able to come off anti-arrhythmic drugs?
- What happens if the procedure doesn't work first time?
- Is there a limit to the number of ablations that can be performed?
- I have paroxysmal (intermittent) AF. What happens if I just leave things and don’t have an ablation?
It is a treatment for atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm, using catheters inside the heart to ablate tissue using a laser guided by a camera.
Yes, the laser balloon technology is new but it is simply the latest version of technology designed to electrically isolate the pulmonary veins at the back of the heart. AF ablation procedures have been performed for about 10 years.
No, the catheters are inserted through tiny holes at the top of the leg, but a general anaesthetic is necessary.
Electrical isolation of the pulmonary veins (or creating a barrier around the vein entrance) achieved by the laser balloon persists in 90% of cases, compared to only 20% with other technologies. So far, the laser balloon hasn’t caused a single stroke, which affects about 1% of traditional AF ablation patients.
No, only patients with paroxysmal, or intermittent AF, or those with recent persistent AF are suitable for the laser balloon. Patients with more longstanding AF require more extensive ablation procedures that are performed with radiofrequency ablation catheters.
Patients with AF (intermittent or persistent) may have to take anticoagulants long term if they are at increased risk of having a stroke. Common risk factors include high blood pressure, age >65, heart muscle damage or previous heart attack, previous stroke or TIA and diabetes. For those patients, cure of their AF with the laser balloon can mean they can stop their medication, but only when it is clear the procedure has been successful. In some cases this can mean waiting a year or two.
Yes, if the laser balloon procedure is successful, you would be able to stop taking anti-arrhythmic drugs and sometimes also beta-blockers.
If AF returns after the first procedure, you will almost certainly be offered another attempt and then the chances of a cure would be higher.
No, in theory you can have an unlimited number of ablations. However, it is uncommon to perform more than two procedures and very rare to perform more than three.
I have paroxysmal (intermittent) AF. What happens if I just leave things and don’t have an ablation?
If you leave things, there is a very high chance your AF will stop being intermittent and become persistent or permanent one day. Although ablation is still possible at that stage, the success rate falls. It is not possible to predict when you might change from paroxysmal to persistent AF but for most patients the window is several years.