Treatment of Arrhythmia

Catheter Ablation

Catheter ablation—also called ablation or radiofrequency ablation—is a nonsurgical treatment to correct abnormal heart rhythm, most often extremely rapid heartbeats (tachyarrhythmias). Catheter ablation destroys abnormal tissue in the heart. Destroying the abnormal tissue repairs the heart’s electrical system, and the heart assumes its normal rhythm.

Who performs the treatment?
A team of medical professionals led by an electrophysiologist performs the treatment. An electrophysiologist is a specially trained cardiologist (heart doctor) who studies and treats the heart’s electrical system.

How is catheter ablation done?
The procedure usually takes place in the Electrophysiology Laboratory, a sterile x-ray room. A member of the team makes a small incision in a vein in your neck or groin and inserts a thin, flexible tube called a catheter. Using real-time x-rays displayed on a video screen for guidance, the electrophysiologist threads the catheter into the heart.

At the tip of the catheter is an electrode. The electrophysiologist directs the tip of the catheter to the exact spot inside the heart where the abnormal tissue is located. High-frequency energy (which is like microwave heat) heats the tip of the catheter. The heat destroys the abnormal tissue. This tissue, then, can no longer generate or conduct the electrical impulses that caused the rapid heartbeats.

You will wear a hospital gown. You will be given a local anesthetic in the area where the catheter is inserted and medication to help you sleep. Most people are asleep during the procedure and do not feel or remember much of it. The staff will monitor you constantly.

Is it safe?
Radiofrequency ablation is a widely used and proven treatment. It has a high rate of success and low rate of risk. It is done under local anesthesia and causes little or no pain or discomfort.

Complications sometimes do occur. The heart or blood vessels could be damaged during the procedure, or blood clots may form. If you have any questions about potential risks or your condition, ask your doctor.

How should I prepare for this treatment?
You should not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before the treatment. Be sure to tell your doctor what medications you are taking, whether you have any allergies, and if you are pregnant. Most patients go home the same day, and you should arrange for someone to take you home.

What can I expect after the treatment?
Unless you are far from home, you will go home the same day. You may feel tenderness or soreness at the site where the catheter was inserted. Let your doctor or the nurses know if you are experiencing any bleeding, pain or unusual symptoms.

After returning home, limit your activity for one day unless told otherwise, and avoid physical exertion and strain. Most patients can resume normal activities two days after the procedure. Follow your doctor’s instructions. If you notice any complications or unusual symptoms—such as bleeding that does not stop, fever, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, dizziness or shortness of breath—call your doctor immediately.