Introduction: There is current interest in finding a way to minimize thermal injury in the esophagus during radiofrequency-catheter ablation of the left atrium. Despite the fact that the esophageal temperature is now being monitored during ablation, the influence of different anatomic and technical factors on the temperature rise remains unknown.
Methods and results: We implemented a three-dimensional computational model that included atrial tissue, epicardial fat, esophagus, aorta, and lung, all linked by connective tissue. The finite-element method was used to calculate the esophageal temperature distribution during a procedure of constant-temperature ablation with an 8-mm electrode, under different tissue conditions. Results showed that the distance between electrode and esophagus was the most important anatomic factor in predicting the esophageal temperature rise, the composition of the different tissues being of lesser importance. The measurement of the esophageal temperature in different sites of the lumen offered differences up to 3.7 degrees C, especially for a short electrode-esophagus distance (5 mm). The difference in the convective cooling by circulating blood around electrode and endocardium did not show a significant influence on the esophageal temperature rise.
Conclusion: Computer results suggest that (1) the electrode-esophagus distance is the most important anatomic factor; (2) the incorrect positioning of an esophageal temperature probe could give a low reading for the maximum temperature reached in the esophagus; and (3) the different cooling effect of the circulating blood flow at different atrial sites has little impact on the esophageal temperature rise.