University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Heart and Vascular Care offers a procedure called ablation that can be used to locate and destroy abnormal electrical circuits in the heart that generate recurrent, sometimes life-threatening arrhythmias.
During catheter ablation, doctors insert several catheters into blood vessels in your legs or neck. Because the catheters are long and flexible, the doctor can use X-ray guidance to navigate through the veins to the heart. The catheters are then positioned so that it lies close to the abnormal electrical pathway that is causing the arrhythmia.
Once the problematic site is pinpointed, energy is delivered through the tip of the ablation catheter. This energy is in the form of heat during a radiofrequency ablation procedure. In a cryoablation procedure, a freezing process is used to destroy the small area of heart tissue that is causing the arrhythmia.
Catheter ablation is an option if other treatment methods have been unsuccessful, such as medications to treat rapid heart rhythms. If the medication is ineffective or causes side effects, ablation may become the preferred mode of treatment.
Surgically-implantable devices can also help manage arrhythmias, but they do not abolish the problem. Ablation is a relatively low-risk procedure that can replace the need for surgery in many instances. If the procedure is successful, ablation may permanently cure the problem you have been experiencing. In many cases, it will allow you to avoid a lifetime of medications and give you the chance of leading a normal life.
Catheter Ablation Procedure
The catheter ablation procedure will take place in a special room with cardiology and X-ray equipment. You will be placed on an X-ray table with a large camera above it and monitors close by, which allow your UW Health physician and technicians to monitor the catheter inside your body and the electrical impulses in your heart.
During the ablation procedure, the physician will try to induce your arrhythmia using small electric currents in various places inside your heart. This is done to help locate the exact area of malfunction and to ensure that only the abnormal pathway that's causing the problem is destroyed.
You will be sedated during the procedure. Medication will be given to help you relax or even doze off. The procedure is usually not painful, but you may feel some initial pressure at the catheter insertion site in your leg. You may experience mild chest discomfort while the abnormal pathway is being ablated, and you may also feel tired and uncomfortable from lying still for a long period of time.
What to Expect After Catheter Ablation
After your catheter ablation procedure is completed and the catheters are removed, pressure will be applied to the insertion site for about five minutes to prevent bleeding. You'll then need to lie flat in bed for four hours in your room or recovery area to allow a small seal to form over the puncture in the blood vessel. During that time, you should not bend or left the area where the catheters were inserted.
In some cases, you may go home the same day, but some patients may need to be monitored overnight to assess the effectiveness of the ablation. Activity should be limited during the first few days after returning home. You can move about, but do not strain or lift heavy objects.
You may experience occasional skipped heart beats for several weeks after the ablation. These are generally not serious and will decrease in frequency. However, call your doctor immediately if you have recurrence of your rapid heart rhythm, or if you experience dizziness, chest pain or shortness of breath.