Is Cardiac Ablation?
Cardiac ablation is
a procedure performed by an interventional cardiologist, a doctor who specializes in performing procedures
for heart problems. The procedure involves threading catheters (long flexible wires)
through a blood vessel and into your heart. The cardiologist uses electrodes to
deliver a safe electrical pulse to areas of your heart to treat an irregular
Do You Need Cardiac Ablation?
Sometimes, your heart may beat too quickly, too slowly, or
unevenly. These heart rhythm problems are called arrhythmias and can sometimes be treated using cardiac ablation.
Arrhythmias are very common, particularly among older adults and in people who
have diseases that affect their heart.
Many people living with arrhythmias don’t have dangerous symptoms
or need medical attention. Other people live normal lives with medication.
People who can see improvement from cardiac ablation include
- have arrhythmias that don’t respond to
- suffer bad side effects from arrhythmia medication
- have a specific kind of arrhythmia that tends to
respond well to cardiac ablation
- are at a high risk for sudden cardiac arrest or
Cardiac ablation may be helpful for people with these specific
types of arrhythmia:
- AV nodal
reentrant tachycardia (AVNRT): a very fast heartbeat caused by a short
circuit in the heart
pathway: a fast heartbeat due to an abnormal electrical pathway
connecting the heart’s upper and lower chambers
fibrillation and atrial flutter: an irregular and fast heartbeat
starting in the heart’s two upper chambers
tachycardia: a very fast and dangerous rhythm starting in the heart’s
two lower chambers
for Your Cardiac Ablation
Your doctor may order tests to record your heart’s electrical
activity and rhythm. Your doctor may also ask about any other conditions you
have, including diabetes or kidney disease. Women who are pregnant should not
have cardiac ablation because the procedure involves radiation.
Your doctor will probably tell you not to eat or drink anything
after midnight the night before the procedure. You may need to stop taking
medications that can increase your risk of excessive bleeding, including
aspirin, Coumadin, or other types of blood thinners, but some cardiologists
wish you to continue these medications. Make certain that you discuss it with
your doctor before surgery.
Happens During Cardiac Ablation?
Cardiac ablations take place in a special room known as an electrophysiology laboratory. Your
healthcare team may include a cardiologist, a technician, a nurse, and an
anesthesia provider. The procedure typically takes between three to six hours
to complete. It may be done under general anesthesia, or local anesthesia with
You’ll get medication through an intravenous (IV) line in your
arm that will make you drowsy and you may fall asleep. Equipment will monitor
your heart’s electrical activity.
Your doctor will clean and numb an area of skin on your arm,
neck, or groin. Next, they will thread a series of catheters through a blood
vessel and into your heart. You will be injected with a special contrast dye to
help the doctor see areas of abnormal muscle in your heart. The cardiologist
will then use a catheter with an electrode at the tip to direct a burst of
radiofrequency energy. This electrical pulse will destroy small sections of
abnormal heart tissue to correct your irregular heartbeat.
The procedure may feel a bit uncomfortable. Make sure to ask your
doctor for more medication if it becomes painful.
After the procedure, you will go to a recovery room and lie still
for four to six hours to help your body recover. Nurses will monitor your heart
rhythm during recovery. You may go home on the same day, or you may need to
stay in the hospital overnight.
Risks Are Involved in Cardiac Ablation?
Risks include bleeding, pain, and infection at the catheter
insertion site. More serious complications are rare, but may include:
- blood clots
- damage to your heart valves or arteries
- fluid build-up around your heart
- heart attack
- pericarditis, or inflammation of the sac
surrounding the heart
You may be tired and experience some discomfort during the first
48 hours after the test. Follow your doctor’s instructions about wound care,
medications, physical activity, and follow-up appointments. Periodic electrocardiograms
(EKGs) and rhythm strips will be done to monitor the heart rhythm.
Some people may still have short episodes of irregular heartbeat
after cardiac ablation. This is a normal reaction as tissue heals, and should
go away over time.
Your doctor will tell you if you need any other procedures,
including pacemaker implantation, especially to treat complex heart rhythm