SAN FRANCISCO (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) Adding left atrial appendage excision to pulmonary vein isolation does not reduce the rate of recurrence in persistent atrial fibrillation, according to a Russian investigation .

Eighty-eight patients with persistent atrial fibrillation (AF) were randomized to thoracoscopic pulmonary vein isolation (PVI) with bilateral epicardial ganglia ablation and box lesion set of the posterior left atrial wall; 88 others were randomized to that approach plus left atrial appendage (LAA) amputation. After 18 months, 64 out of 87 patients in the LAA-excision group (73.6%) and 61 out of 86 patients (70.9%) in the control group were free from recurrent AF, meaning no episodes greater than 30 seconds (P = .73). Freedom from any atrial arrhythmia after a single procedure with or without follow-up antiarrhythmic drugs (AADs) was also similar, with 70.9% in the control and 74.7% in the treatment groups. “Both approaches had excellent” results with no differences in complication rates, but there “was no reduction in AF recurrence when LAA excision was performed,” said investigator Dr. Alexander Romanov of the State Research Institute of Circulation Pathology, Novosibirsk, Russia.

The results are a bit surprising because some previous studies have suggested that electrical isolation of the LAA improves AF ablation success, and surgical excision might be expected to have a similar effect. In many places in the United States, LAA excisions are routine in open heart surgery when patients have AF, to prevent stroke. Guidelines for AF management from the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology, and Heart Rhythm Society published in 2014 give a class IIb recommendation, saying “surgical excision of the left atrial appendage may be considered in patients undergoing cardiac surgery,” with an evidence level of C, meaning there are no data to support the recommendation, only expert consensus ( J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;64[21]:2246-80 ).

There were no significant differences between the groups; patients were about 60 years old, on average, and more than 80% in both groups had baseline CHADS2 scores of 0 or 1. All patients had persistent AF for more than a week but no longer than a year; longer-standing cases were excluded, as were patients with prior heart surgeries or catheter ablations. There were no statistically significant differences in operative times or complications. A few patients in each arm needed sternotomies for hemostasis, and one in each arm had a stroke during follow-up. Patients were followed at regular intervals by ECG and Holter monitoring.

AADs were allowed during the blanking period; patients could continue them afterwards for AF recurrence or have endocardial redo ablations; 10 patients in the control group (12%) and 13 in the LAA group (15%) had repeat procedures (P = .55). Most were for right atrial flutter and a few for left atrial flutter. “Only one redo case was for true AF recurrence,” Dr. Romanov said.

The team did not test for exertion intolerance and other potential LAA excision problems.

Dr. Romanov is a speaker for Medtronic, Biosense Webster, and Boston Scientific.