Using Anatomical Landmark to Avoid Phrenic Nerve Injury During Balloon-Based Procedures in Atrial Fibrillation Patients

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Surgical and Radiologic Anatomy


Purpose: Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an arrhythmia which affects as many as 2.7 million Americans. AF should be treated, because it can lead to a four-to-fivefold increased risk of experiencing a stroke. The American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guidelines for the treatment of drug refractory and symptomatic paroxysmal AF denote catheter ablation as the standard of care. The newest ablation treatment, cryoballoon, uses a cold balloon tip. The biggest risk factor associated with the cryoballoon ablation is phrenic nerve injury (PNI). The purpose of this study is to measure relevant distances from specific landmarks to the right phrenic nerve (RPN) to create a safe zone for physicians.

Methods: Using 30 cadaveric specimens, we measured laterally from the right superior pulmonary vein orifice (RSPV) to the RPN at the level of the sixth thoracic vertebra and laterally from the lateral border of the sixth thoracic vertebral body (T6) to the RPN. The depth and width of the left atrium (LA) were also measured to establish a cross-sectional area of the LA. The cross-sectional area of the LA was then correlated with the averaged measurements to see if the area of the LA could be a predictor of the location of the RPN.

Results: The average distance from the RPN-RSPV was 9.6 mm (range 4.3-18.8 mm). The average RPN-T6 distance was 30.6 mm (range 13.7-49.9 mm). There was a non-significant trend that suggests as the size of the LA increases, the measured distances also increased.

Conclusion: Using the lateral border of the sixth thoracic vertebra as a landmark, which can be viewed under fluoroscopy during the procedure, physicians can triangulate the distance to the RSPV and determine the approximate position of the RPN. Furthermore, physicians can perform a preoperative echocardiogram to determine the size of the LA to assist in determining the position of the RPN with the hopes of avoiding injury to the RPN.



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Atrial fibrillation, Cardiology, Cryoballoon, Electrophysiology, Phrenic nerve palsy