What is Catheter Ablation?
Catheter ablation is a procedure that uses radiofrequency energy (similar to microwave heat) to destroy a small area of heart tissue that is causing rapid and irregular heartbeats. Destroying this tissue helps restore your heart’s regular rhythm. The procedure is also called radiofrequency ablation.
Cardiac ablation is a procedure that’s used to correct heart rhythm problems.
When your heart beats, the electrical impulses that cause it to contract must follow a precise pathway through your heart. Any interruption in these impulses can cause an abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia), which can sometimes be treated with cardiac ablation.
When is Catheter Ablation needed?
When your heart rhythm problems cannot be managed with medications, your doctor may recommend catheter ablation.
What should you know before undergoing Catheter Ablation?
Not everyone can safely undergo this procedure. Ablation isn’t usually your first treatment option. Ablation is a treatment option for people who:
- Have tried medications to treat an arrhythmia without success
- Have had serious side effects from medications to treat arrhythmias
- Have certain types of arrhythmias that respond well to ablation, such as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and supraventricular tachycardia
- Have a high risk of complications from their arrhythmias, such as sudden cardiac arrest
What are the complications and side effects?
For 2 or 3 days after your procedure, you may have these symptoms:
- Achy feeling in your chest
- Skipped heartbeats, or times when your heartbeat is very fast or irregular.
Catheter ablation is generally safe. Talk with your provider about these rare complications:
- Bleeding or blood pooling where the catheter is inserted
- Blood clot that goes to arteries in your leg, heart, or brain
- Damage to the artery where the catheter is inserted
- Damage to heart valves
- Damage to the coronary arteries (blood vessels that carry blood to your heart)
- Esophageal atrial fistula (a connection that forms between your esophagus and part of your heart)
- Fluid around the heart (cardiac tamponade)
- Heart attack
- Vagal or phrenic nerve damage
It is important you understand the precautions and know the possible complication and side effects before having this Catheter Ablation. If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor or surgeon for more information.
How do I prepare for Catheter Ablation?
Your doctor will evaluate you and may order several tests to evaluate your heart condition. Your doctor will discuss with you the risks and benefits.
You’ll need to stop eating and drinking the night before your procedure. If you take any medications, ask your doctor if you should continue taking them before your procedure.
Your doctor will let you know if you need to follow any other special instructions before or after your procedure. In some cases, you’ll be instructed to stop taking medications to treat a heart arrhythmia several days before your procedure.
If you have an implanted heart device, such as a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, talk to your doctor to see if you need to take any special precautions.
What happens during Catheter Ablation?
Catheter ablation is a long procedure. It can last 4 or more hours. If you have more than one area of abnormal tissue, the procedure will take longer. You can usually go home the same day, or you may have to stay overnight.
Catheter ablation is performed in the hospital. Before your procedure begins, a specialist will insert an intravenous line into your forearm or hand, and you’ll be given a sedative to help you relax. In some situations, general anesthesia may be used instead to place you in a sleep-like state. What type of anesthesia you receive depends on your particular situation.
After your sedative takes effect, your doctor or another specialist will numb a small area near a vein on your groin, neck or forearm. Your doctor will insert a needle into the vein and place a tube (sheath) through the needle.
Your doctor will thread catheters through the sheath and guide them to several places within your heart. Your doctor may inject dye into the catheter, which helps your care team see your blood vessels and heart using X-ray imaging. The catheters have electrodes at the tips that can be used to send electrical impulses to your heart and record your heart’s electrical activity.
This process of using imaging and other tests to determine what’s causing your arrhythmia is called an electrophysiology (EP) study. An EP study is usually done before cardiac ablation in order to determine the most effective way to treat your arrhythmia.
Once the abnormal heart tissue that’s causing the arrhythmia is identified, your doctor will aim the catheter tips at the area of abnormal heart tissue. Energy will travel through the catheter tips to create a scar or destroy the tissue that triggers your arrhythmia.
In some cases, ablation blocks the electrical signals traveling through your heart to stop the abnormal rhythm and allow signals to travel over a normal pathway instead.
The energy used in your procedure can come from:
- Extreme cold (cryoablation)
- Heat (radiofrequency)
What happens after Catheter Ablation?
Following your procedure, you’ll be moved to a recovery area to rest quietly for four to six hours to prevent bleeding at your catheter site. Your heartbeat and blood pressure will be monitored continuously to check for complications of the procedure.
Your doctor will decide whether you can go home on the same day, or if you will need to stay in the hospital overnight for continued heart monitoring. You will need someone to drive you home after your procedure.
Your doctor may keep you on your medicines, or give you new ones that help control your heart rhythm.
If you have any questions or concerns, please consult with your doctor or surgeon for more information.
What should you do after Catheter Ablation?
Depending on your condition, you may be able to go home the same day as your procedure, or you may need to stay in the hospital. If you go home the same day, plan to have someone else drive you home after your procedure.
You may feel a little sore after your procedure, but the soreness shouldn’t last more than a week. You’ll usually be able to return to your normal activities within a few days after having cardiac ablation.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: September 14, 2018 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019
Cardiac ablation. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cardiac-ablation/about/pac-20384993. Accessed May 11, 2018.
Ablation for Arrhythmias. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/PreventionTreatmentofArrhythmia/Ablation-for-Arrhythmias_UCM_301991_Article.jsp. Accessed May 11, 2018.
Cardiac ablation procedures. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007368.htm. Accessed May 11, 2018.