Heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) that can’t be controlled with medication may benefit from catheter ablation. This minimally invasive procedure stops the electrical impulses that cause irregular heart rhythms.
Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive treatment for fast heartbeats. A catheter is a thin tube inserted through a blood vessel to your heart. Catheter ablation is one type of heart ablation procedure used to treat abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). Ablation is a technique used to strategically destroy abnormal tissue and restore proper function to your heart.
A cardiologist (a doctor who specializes in treating heart conditions) performs catheter ablation. The procedure uses hot or cold energy to create scars in your heart tissue where the arrhythmia is occurring. The scars help block abnormal electrical impulses and prevent abnormal rhythms.
The scars only destroy tissue involved with faulty heart patterns. They don’t cause any residual pain or create problems with your heart’s function.
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Catheter ablation treats all types of fast heart arrhythmias. Your cardiologist may suggest catheter ablation if you have an abnormal heart rhythm that medication can’t treat.
Types of arrhythmias treated with catheter ablation include:
Healthcare providers may also recommend catheter ablation if you are at high risk of:
Catheter ablation is not usually the first line of treatment for people with arrhythmias, such as AFib. But if you have tried at least one medication to control your arrhythmia, without success, your cardiologist may recommend catheter ablation.
Catheter ablation is an increasingly common procedure for those with heart arrhythmias.
Catheter ablation uses either hot or cold energy to scar heart tissue. Your provider will choose the method they are most comfortable with and that is most appropriate for your condition. You’ll receive sedation or possibly general anesthesia during the procedure and won’t feel any extremes of hot or cold.
The types of catheter ablation include:
Your provider will thoroughly evaluate your heart and overall health to choose the best procedure to treat the arrhythmia that affects you.
In preparation for the procedure, your provider will give you specific instructions. You may need to:
A cardiologist performs catheter ablation in the hospital. You will need to stay at the hospital for six to eight hours after the procedure. Depending on your condition, you may go home that day or spend the night at the hospital.
A nurse will help get you ready for the procedure by inserting an intravenous (IV) line into your arm. You can receive medicine through the IV line, including anesthesia. You may be awake during the procedure but you’ll at least receive sedation as you might in a colonoscopy. You may be placed under general anesthesia depending on the type of procedure you’re undergoing. Your doctor will discuss this with you and will schedule this appropriately.
In most cases, your provider inserts the catheter into a large vein or artery in your groin. Sometimes, providers choose to use a vein in your arm or neck instead. Your provider will decide on the best location based on your anatomy and condition.
Catheter ablation generally is associated with very transient and mild discomfort. Many ablations are associated with little or no discomfort from the ablation at all. The site where the catheter went into your vein may be sore and have a bruise. The puncture is very small and should heal quickly.
As your heart tissue heals and recovers, you may continue to feel irregular heart rhythms for a few weeks. This is normal. You should alert your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about anything you’re feeling after an ablation procedure.
Catheter ablation can take two to four hours to complete. After the procedure, you move to a recovery room and stay there for several hours. A nurse monitors your condition while you recover.
When it’s time to go home, you’ll receive detailed instructions about at-home care. Your provider may prescribe aspirin or other blood-thinning medication to help prevent blood clots. You may take this medicine for several months or longer after the procedure, depending upon your unique history.
Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that usually doesn’t require a prolonged hospital stay. It can offer success beyond medical therapy for many people. If you have an arrhythmia that isn’t controlled with medications, catheter ablation can restore normal heart function and can even be lifesaving in some cases.
The risks of catheter ablation are low. Complications after catheter ablation are rare. Possible risks include:
You do receive some radiation during radiofrequency catheter ablation. If you are pregnant, consult with your provider about whether you can safely wait to have the procedure after your baby is born.
It can take several weeks to heal completely. You may continue to experience arrhythmias while your heart tissue heals.
Unless your job involves heavy lifting or other physical labor, you will likely feel ready to return to work five to seven days after your procedure.
You should avoid heavy lifting and strenuous exercise for at least a week. Consult with your provider about when it’s safe to return to physical activity.
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Catheter ablation uses hot or cold energy to destroy areas of heart tissue. The scarred tissue can no longer create abnormal heart rhythms. The procedure generally has low risk, except in very sick individuals, and works well for many people. This minimally invasive procedure can be lifesaving for people with arrhythmias.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/05/2021.
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