Cerebral thromboembolic risk in atrial fibrillation ablation: a direct comparison of vitamin K antagonists versus non-vitamin K-dependent oral anticoagulants



Cerebral thromboembolic events are well-known complications of pulmonary vein isolation (PVI) and can manifest as stroke or silent cerebral embolic lesions. The aim of this study was to compare the incidence of cerebral embolic lesions (including silent cerebral embolism and stroke) after AF ablation in patients on vitamin K antagonists versus patients on non-vitamin K-dependent oral anticoagulants, and to identify corresponding clinical and procedural risk factors.


A total of 421 patients undergoing PVI were prospectively included into the study. Of these, 43.7% were on VKA and 56.3% on NOAC treatment (dabigatran, rivaroxaban, apixaban, and edoxaban). In the NOAC group, 38% of patients had an interruption of anticoagulation for 24–36 h. All patients underwent pre- and postprocedural cerebral magnetic resonance imaging.


Periprocedural cerebral lesions occurred in 13.1% overall. Of these, three (0.7%) resulted in symptomatic cerebrovascular accidents and 52 (12.4%) in silent cerebral embolic lesions. Incidence of cerebral lesions was significantly higher in patients on NOAC compared with VKA (16% vs. 9.2%, respectively, p = 0.04), and in patients who had intraprocedural cardioversions compared with no cardivoersions (19.5% vs. 10.4%, respectively, p = 0.03). In multivariate analysis, both parameters were found to be independent risk factors for cerebral embolism. No significant difference between interrupted and uninterrupted NOAC administration could be detected.


In patients undergoing AF ablation, we identified the use of NOAC and intraprocedural cardioversion as independent risk factors for the occurrence of periprocedural cerebral embolic lesions.

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Correspondence to Adrian Petzl.

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All procedures performed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the national research committee (Ethikkommission des Landes Oberösterreich (Ethics Commission of the State of Upper Austria), ethics committee vote reference number K-103-16) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Petzl, A., Derndorfer, M., Kollias, G. et al. Cerebral thromboembolic risk in atrial fibrillation ablation: a direct comparison of vitamin K antagonists versus non-vitamin K-dependent oral anticoagulants. J Interv Card Electrophysiol 60, 147–154 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10840-020-00718-w

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  • Atrial fibrillation ablation
  • Non-vitamin K-dependent oral anticoagulant
  • Vitamin K antagonist
  • Stroke
  • Silent cerebral embolism
  • Cerebral magnetic resonance imaging