A cardiac ablation is a procedure to scar or destroy heart tissue to prevent abnormal electrical signals from moving through the heart. Cardiac ablation may be an option for patients who have symptoms from an abnormal heart rhythm or who have an arrhythmia that could lead to heart failure.
Types of Cardiac Ablation
Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is most commonly used. During this procedure, high-frequency radio waves are used to “zap” the heart tissue that’s causing the irregular electrical signals. RFA can be used for almost every type of arrhythmia.
Cryoablation is often used to treat atrial fibrillation. Instead of high-frequency radio waves, cryoablation uses liquid nitrogen to destroy the heart tissue that’s causing the irregular electrical signals.
Cardiac ablation is an invasive procedure that involves moving catheters through blood vessels into the heart. Many times, multiple catheters are placed in the heart to record and diagnose the abnormal rhythm. This is called an electrophysiology study.
Cardiac ablation can be used in different parts of the heart, including the atria, the ventricles and near or even in the veins of the heart. Generally, ablation is performed on the inside of the heart. However, there are certain circumstances when ablation needs to be performed on the outside of the heart using special techniques. For the most part, ablation is not a painful experience. There are certain structures near the heart that can sense pain, which can lead to an uncomfortable feeling in some cases. Most cardiac ablation procedures are performed using some form of anesthesia. The type of anesthesia used depends on the patient.
The risks of ablation vary and depend on the type of arrhythmia, the patient, the type of anesthesia used and the length of the procedure. Potential complications can be as minor as discomfort in the groin or as life threatening as bleeding around the heart. Your physician will discuss the full risks prior to the procedure.
After the Procedure
After a procedure the patient will be required to lay flat to allow the vessels used to access the heart to heal. Patients will be instructed on activities and groin care after the procedure. Patients can usually go home the same day as the procedure.
After the procedure, the patient may experience tenderness and bruising at the access sites in the groin. Rarely, there may be a small bump at the access site, which represents a small collection of blood in the tissue that will eventually resorb. It is very rare for the patient to have chest pain after a procedure, as there are no sensor nerves inside the heart. Chest discomfort may be caused by irritation of a surrounding structure, such as the lungs. It is not uncommon to have throat discomfort after a procedure under general anesthesia. Discomfort that lasts more than two or three days should be reported to your physician. Most patients will be back to normal activities five to seven days after the procedure.