Cardiac ablation, also known as cardiac catheter ablation, is a procedure used to correct certain arrhythmias. It uses heat energy or cold to scar parts of your heart tissue in order to prevent abnormal electrical impulses from causing irregular heart rhythms. Radiofrequency ablation uses heat energy, and cryoablation uses cold temperatures to create the scars. Laser light may also be used during an ablation.
Why Cardiac Ablation is done
Cardiac catheter ablations are often performed when patients have arrhythmias that have not been controllable with medication. It’s also done to correct certain types of arrhythmias that put you at risk for potentially deadly rhythms, like ventricular or atrial fibrillation.
Sometimes doctors recommend ablations when their patients cannot take medications due to side effects or other problems.
There are some conditions that respond well to ablations, such as supraventricular tachycardia and Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. In those cases, ablation may be the best option for treatment.
When Cardiac Ablation is done
Some arrhythmias may be treated with ablation. This includes (not an inclusive list):
- Atrial fibrillation
- Atrial flutter
- AV nodal reentrant tachycardia (AVNRT)
- Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW) and other accessory pathway disorders
- Ventricular tachycardia
- Supraventricular tachycardia
How Cardiac Ablation is done
Ablation procedures are done using twilight sedation, which means you will be awake, but you’ll be given medication to help you relax and to handle any associated pain. No matter which type of ablation you have, catheterization will be used to put tiny catheters into your heart to create scar tissue. The catheters will be put into your blood vessel through a small incision in your arm, groin, thigh, or neck. During the procedure, your doctor will use a type of x-ray technology called fluoroscopy to see the catheters as they are moved toward your heart.
Your surgeon will attempt to recreate your arrhythmia in order to determine what is causing it. Once the cause of the arrhythmia is found, your doctor will use the catheter to create scar tissue. Depending on the type of ablation, your doctor will use radiofrequency waves, cold, or laser light to create a scar. This scar is called the ablation line. The ablation line interrupts the electrical signals that are causing arrhythmias.
After the procedure is over, your doctor will remove the catheter(s), close your incisions and stop the medication. You will stay in the hospital for at least a few hours to recover, but there’s a chance you will go home the same day. Whenever you are released from the hospital, you will need someone to drive you home.
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Benefits of Cardiac Ablation
One of the biggest benefits of ablation is that it can permanently correct a heart arrhythmia or the heart defect that is causing an arrhythmia. A permanent or long-term solution to heart problems like arrhythmias is often preferable to taking medication for life and living with the risks of untreated arrhythmias, such as heart attack and stroke.
Ablations tend to be low-risk, high-reward procedures, which makes them an attractive option to many people with arrhythmias.
Some people who have atrial fibrillation cannot take the blood thinning medications that are often prescribed as part of a treatment plan for a-fib. In that case, cardiac ablation may be the only effective treatment option.
Two basic types of Cardiac Ablation
There are two basic types of ablation – radiofrequency ablation, which uses high-energy radiofrequency signals to make scars in the heart tissue and cryoablation that uses extremely cold temperatures to make the scars. Laser light energy may also be used to create scar tissue.
Sometimes ablations are categorized by the type of condition they are treating. Here are some examples:
- Atrial flutter ablation
- Ventricular tachycardia ablation
- Pulmonary vein isolation
- SVT ablation (supraventricular tachycardia ablation)
Most of the time, cardiac ablations are done using minimally-invasive procedures. However, there are times when ablations are done through open-heart surgery.
Recovery after a cardiac ablation is usually quick. If you aren’t having open heart surgery, you will go home the same day or the following day as long as you don’t have any complications. Right after the procedure, you will need to stay in bed for about five or six hours. During this initial recovery period, hospital staff will monitor your heart rhythm for signs of problems.
You may experience some minor symptoms in the first few days after your procedure, including:
- Chest discomfort or achiness
- Heart palpitations, including fast or irregular heart beats
You may have to continue taking medications for a while – either the ones you were taking prior to the procedure or new ones.
Success rates depend upon your condition, among other factors. Some arrhythmias tend to respond quite well to ablation procedures, and others are more difficult to pinpoint and treat. Talk to your doctor before your procedure to find out what he or she expects your outcome to be.
Cardiac ablation is typically well tolerated and safe. Serious complications are rare, but the possibility they will occur does exist. Some potential complications are:
- Blood vessel damage
- Puncturing the heart muscle
- Damage to a heart valve
- Damage to the heart’s electrical system, which could make your condition worse or require a pacemaker implantation
- Blood clots
- Stroke or heart attack
- Pulmonary stenosis
- Kidney damage
Types of doctors that perform Cardiac Ablation
Electrophysiologists specialize in heart rhythm disorders, so they perform ablation procedures all the time. However, depending on their training, several other types of doctors can perform cardiac ablation procedures, including cardiologists, interventional cardiologists, heart surgeons, cardiovascular surgeons and cardiothoracic surgeons.
The Beaumont difference
Beaumont is a world leader in innovative heart care. We have specialized heart care centers, such as Atrial Fibrillation Clinics, Valve Clinics, the Ministrelli Women’s Heart Center, and the Center for Heart and Vascular Services. Find out why more patients in Southeast Michigan prefer Beaumont for heart care.
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