What is a Catheter Ablation?

Your rhythmic heartbeat is controlled by a smooth, constant flow of electricity through the heart. A short-circuit anywhere along this electrical pathway can disrupt the normal flow of signals, causing an arrhythmia, which could be fast and/or occasionally irregular. Cardiac ablation is a procedure that is used either to destroy these short-circuits and restore normal rhythm, or to block damaged electrical pathways from sending faulty signals to the rest of the heart.

Who typically needs a Catheter Ablation?

Catheter ablation may be an option in any of these cases:

  • If an arrhythmia can’t be controlled with lifestyle changes or medication
  • If medications used to treat an arrhythmia can’t be tolerated or aren’t desired
  • If a supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is present
  • If ventricular tachycardia (VT) is present

What to Expect During the Procedure

Cardiac ablation is performed by a cardiac electrophysiologist—a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating heart rhythm disorders. The procedure involves inserting catheters with tiny electrodes on the tips (narrow, flexible tubes) into a blood vessel (often through the veins and occasionally through the artery, depending on the source of the arrhythmia) until they reach your heart. Patients are given sedatives in order to relax them and make them more comfortable. Additionally, and a topical anesthetic will be used to numb the skin before the catheters are inserted.

The doctor will conduct a thorough evaluation of the electrical system of the heart, using the electrodes on the catheter to identify and pinpoint the location of the short-circuit. Once the precise location is confirmed, the ‘short-circuits’ are destroyed in order to cure the arrhythmia. This happens when electricity is sent through the catheters to destroy a small amount of tissue at the site. This helps to restore normal heart rhythm, without affecting the strength of the heart muscle. Most people say they experience only brief moments of discomfort during the procedure.

After the procedure patients are required to remain still (in a static position) for four to six hours following the surgery, in order to make sure that the catheter incision site begins to properly heal. Some patients might need to take aspirin for up to a month after the procedure, and some patients (who undergo an atrial fibrillation ablation) will need to take an anticoagulant (Coumadin, Dabigatran or Raviroxaban).

Results

Catheter ablation is an effective treatment for many types of arrhythmias. It is successful in 90 to 98 percent of cases, eliminating the need for open-heart surgery or long-term drug therapy.