The Cox-maze procedure for the restoration of normal sinus rhythm, initially developed by Dr. James Cox, underwent several iterations over the years. The main concept consists of creating a series of transmural lesions in the right and left atria that disrupt re-entrant circuits responsible for propagating the abnormal atrial fibrillation rhythm. The left atrial appendage is excluded as a component of the Maze procedure. For the first three iterations of the Cox- maze procedure, these lesions were performed using a surgical cut-and-sew approach that ensured transmurality. The Cox-Maze IV is the most currently accepted iteration. It achieves the same lesion set of the Cox- maze III but uses alternative energy sources to create the transmural lesions, potentially in a minimally invasive approach on the beating heart. High-frequency ultrasound, microwave, and laser energy have all been used with varying success in the past.
Today, bipolar radiofrequency heat or cryotherapy cooling are the most accepted sources for creating linear lesions with consistent safety and transmurality. The robust and reliable nature of these energy delivery methods has yielded a success rate reaching 90% freedom from atrial fibrillation at 12 months. Such approaches offer a significant long-term advantage over catheter-based ablation, especially in patients having longstanding, persistent atrial fibrillation with characteristics such as dilated left atrial dimensions, poor ejection fraction, and failed catheter ablation. Based on these improved results, there currently is significant interest in developing a hybrid ablation strategy that incorporates the superior transmural robust lesions of surgical ablation, the reliable stroke prevention potential of epicardial left atrial appendage exclusion, and sophisticated mapping and confirmatory catheter-based ablation technology. Such a minimally invasive hybrid strategy for ablation may lead to the development of multidisciplinary “Afib teams” to obtain optimal long-term sinus rhythm control. This article provides an overview of current surgical strategies for patients with atrial fibrillation and addresses the two main goals in its management.