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Catheter Ablation

What is catheter ablation?

A catheter ablation is a medical procedure designed to cure abnormal heart rhythms by destroying electrical short circuits in the heart.

How is the procedure performed?

Catheter ablation is usually performed under general anaesthetic or heavy sedation and is always performed in hospital. You will be asleep during the procedure. Once you are asleep, the doctor will insert a number of small plastic tubes in the femoral veins, which are large veins at the top of thigh. Plastic covered wires called catheters are then advanced along the veins into the heart. The tips of the catheters have small electrodes which are used to record electrical signals from the heart. The doctor uses these signals to find the site of the electrical short circuit. Once the short circuit is located, it is destroyed with an electric current (radio frequency ablation) or by freezing (cryoablation). In each case only a small amount of tissue (about the size of a pea) is destroyed.

How long will the procedure take?

In general a procedure takes between 1.5 and 6 hours but most procedures last less than 3 hours.

Will I feel unwell after the procedure?

In general there is very little discomfort following catheter ablation. You may have a sore throat from the breathing tube. Occasionally a mild chest discomfort is present following the procedure.

What is the risk of complications?

The risk of complications depends on a number of factors including the site of the ablation and the type of abnormal heart rhythm. Please refer to the other information sheets on this website for further information regarding risks.

When will I be able to return to work?

This depends on what sort of work you do. You should not lift heavy objects or exercise vigorously for a week after the procedure. So if your occupation involves these activities you shouldn’t work for a week. If your occupation is mainly sedentary you could return to work as soon as you feel comfortable which usually will be a day or two after the procedure.

Are x-rays used for the procedure?

Yes x-rays are used to help the doctor guide the catheters into the heart. Therefore it is essential that you are not pregnant at the time of the procedure.

Is any preparation necessary?

Yes you should fast for six hours prior to the procedure. This means no food or water. Medications can be taken with a small sip of water. Your doctor will ask you stop certain medications. Make sure you ask him or her about this well before the procedure. Medications that might be stopped include blood thinners or drugs used to control abnormal heart rhythms. In some case blood thinners are continued.

© Dr Mark McGuire 5/1/2016

More info: Please click on the links below
American Heart Association
Heart Rhythm Society

Medline