For patients with certain heart arrhythmias, UW Health's Heart and Vascular Care program in Madison, Wisconsin, offers catheter cryoablation, a procedure that involves freezing targeted portions of heart tissue to correct irregular heartbeats.
About Catheter Cryoblation
Catheter cryoablation is performed via a catheter inserted through a vein to the heart while the patient is sedated but conscious. The procedure allows physicians a greater degree of precision than more traditional radiofrequency ablation, especially when working around critical structures in the heart that distribute electrical impulses. By using the tip of the catheter to moderately freeze an area of the heart to about -25 degrees Celsuis, physicians are allowed to test heart tissue without permanently damaging it.
The cooling of the tissue allows doctors to test the area about to be "ablated," or destroyed, by freezing it all the way down to about -75 degrees Celsius. If the targeted tissue is not determined to be the precise area that is causing the arrhythmia, the doctor can restore the cells to their normal temperature and function without destroying them.
That's not possible with the radiofrequency ablation method, which uses heat to destroy heart tissue. However, depending on the circumstances, radiofrequency ablation is still effective in treating many patients. The relatively non-invasive cryoablation procedure allows patients to go home the same day and resume normal activities shortly thereafter.
Expanding the Cryoballoon
The image below shows an x-ray of the cryoballoon being expanded and positioned in the left superior pulmonary vein.
X-ray image of the cryoballoon being expanded and positioned in the left superior pulmonary vein.