Catheter ablation for arrhythmias

Catheter ablation is a non-surgical technique that eliminates the abnormal electrical pathways that can cause abnormal heart rhythms, also known as arrhythmias.

During a catheter ablation, doctors insert a long, flexible wire called an electrode catheter into the heart usually from the veins in the groin. The catheter is positioned near the abnormal electrical pathway.  Depending on the type of arrhythmia to be “ablated” the electrical tissue is either treated with radiofrequency (heat) energy or the tissue is cooled to abolish the rhythm disturbance.  These treatments intentionally damage a small area of heart tissue containing the abnormal electrical pathway.

EP study and catheter ablation

If you are having your first electrophysiology (EP) study, your doctor may decide to do a catheter ablation at the same time. The main difference between these two procedures is that the EP study is performed to diagnose the problem that catheter ablation treats.

What to expect in catheter ablation

You will be awake during the catheter ablation, although medication may be given to help you relax and some patients doze off during the procedure. The staff will be monitoring your progress constantly.

The procedure usually is not painful, although you may feel some pressure at the site(s) where the catheters are inserted. You also may feel tired and uncomfortable from lying still for a long time.

During the procedure, doctors may stimulate your heart with tiny electrical impulses. You will not feel these impulses, but they may induce the arrhythmia that has caused your symptoms in the past.

The procedure can be quite lengthy. Depending on the particular arrhythmia you have, and whether an EP study is also done, a complete procedure can last from two to six hours.

Potential risks include bleeding, heart perforation, need for a pacemaker, stroke, death.

At home after your catheter ablation

 In order to recover as quickly as possible after a catheter ablation, you should:

  • Limit your activity during the first few days after the procedure. You can move about, but do not strain or lift heavy objects.
  • Leave the dressing on the insertion site(s) for a day after the procedure.
  • A bruise or a small lump under the skin at the insertion site is common.
  • Call your doctor if the insertion site(s) becomes painful or warm to the touch, if the bruising or swelling increases or if you develop a fever over 100°F.