Cryoballoon Ablation as Initial Therapy for Atrial Fibrillation

N Engl J Med. 2021 Jan 28;384(4):316-324. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2029554. Epub 2020 Nov 16.


Background: In patients with symptomatic paroxysmal atrial fibrillation that has not responded to medication, catheter ablation is more effective than antiarrhythmic drug therapy for maintaining sinus rhythm. However, the safety and efficacy of cryoballoon ablation as initial first-line therapy have not been established.

Methods: We performed a multicenter trial in which patients 18 to 80 years of age who had paroxysmal atrial fibrillation for which they had not previously received rhythm-control therapy were randomly assigned (1:1) to receive treatment with antiarrhythmic drugs (class I or III agents) or pulmonary vein isolation with a cryoballoon. Arrhythmia monitoring included 12-lead electrocardiography conducted at baseline and at 1, 3, 6, and 12 months; patient-activated telephone monitoring conducted weekly and when symptoms were present during months 3 through 12; and 24-hour ambulatory monitoring conducted at 6 and 12 months. The primary efficacy end point was treatment success (defined as freedom from initial failure of the procedure or atrial arrhythmia recurrence after a 90-day blanking period to allow recovery from the procedure or drug dose adjustment, evaluated in a Kaplan-Meier analysis). The primary safety end point was assessed in the ablation group only and was a composite of several procedure-related and cryoballoon system-related serious adverse events.

Results: Of the 203 participants who underwent randomization and received treatment, 104 underwent ablation, and 99 initially received drug therapy. In the ablation group, initial success of the procedure was achieved in 97% of patients. The Kaplan-Meier estimate of the percentage of patients with treatment success at 12 months was 74.6% (95% confidence interval [CI], 65.0 to 82.0) in the ablation group and 45.0% (95% CI, 34.6 to 54.7) in the drug-therapy group (P<0.001 by log-rank test). Two primary safety end-point events occurred in the ablation group (Kaplan-Meier estimate of the percentage of patients with an event within 12 months, 1.9%; 95% CI, 0.5 to 7.5).

Conclusions: Cryoballoon ablation as initial therapy was superior to drug therapy for the prevention of atrial arrhythmia recurrence in patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. Serious procedure-related adverse events were uncommon. (Supported by Medtronic; STOP AF First number, NCT03118518.).

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / drug therapy*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / surgery*
  • Catheter Ablation* / adverse effects
  • Cryosurgery*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life
  • Recurrence
  • Secondary Prevention / methods
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents

Associated data