Cardiac ablation is a procedure performed to treat arrhythmia, an abnormal heart rhythm. The cardiac ablation procedure uses small wires, called electrodes, that are placed inside the heart to measure electrical activity. Cardiac ablation helps to prevent abnormal electrical signals from traveling through the heart, which can stop an arrhythmia. These electrodes may also be used to scar or destroy tissue in the heart that triggers an abnormal heart rhythm. Cardiac ablation is often used to treat certain heart rhythm problems that have not responded to medication or other forms of treatment.
Cardiac Ablation Procedure
Before the cardiac ablation procedure begins, an intravenous line with a sedating solution is inserted into the arm. Parts of the groin, arm, or neck will be numbed and a needle will be used to open the skin to reach the blood vessel behind it. A thin tube, known as a sheath, is then placed into this opening. A long, thin flexible tube called an ablation catheter is inserted into the blood vessel in the groin using a guide wire. A special dye is then injected into the catheter to display the inside of the heart on a series of X-rays, known as angiograms. The ablation catheter uses electrodes to detect an arrhythmia, and emits radiofrequency energy to destroy portions of the heart tissue that cause the irregular heart rhythm. Patients are usually asleep during the procedure. If patients remain awake, they may experience slight chest discomfort from the radiofrequency energy and a burning sensation where the catheter is inserted. When the procedure is completed, the ablation catheter, guide wire, and sheath are removed, and the blood vessel is closed up and bandaged.
Recovery from Cardiac Ablation
Immediately after the cardiac ablation, the patient is moved to a recovery area, where they will be monitored for several hours. While most patients go home the same day, in some cases, an overnight hospital stay is required. Patients may experience soreness or bruising at the catheter site. Regular activities can usually be resumed within a few days.
Risks of Cardiac Ablation
While complications are rare, there are certain risks associated with cardiac ablation. Risks include:
- Blood clots
- Infection at the catheter site
- Blood vessel damage
- Kidney damage
- Puncture of the heart
- Damage to the heart's electrical system that requires a pacemaker
The risk of complications is higher in patients older than 75, as well as in individuals with diabetes or kidney disease. Cardiac ablation is considered an effective form of treatment for heart arrhythmia, however, some patients may need to have the procedure repeated.