What is ablation?

During an ablation procedure, your doctor locates and eliminates the abnormal electrical circuits or areas in your heart that are causing your irregular heartbeats.

Electrical pathways in your heart regulate your heartbeat. When these signals malfunction, your heartbeat can speed up or become irregular. This can cause symptoms, and in some cases result in dangerous blood clots.

Ablation uses heated or cold energy to create a small scar that targets the area in your heart creating the abnormal heartbeat.

Your doctor uses a thin, flexible tube called a catheter to reach your heart. Your doctor threads the catheter through a blood vessel to reach the abnormal area in your heart.

Kinds of ablation

When performing the ablation, energy is delivered to your heart from the tip of the catheter. There are two kinds of ablation:

Uses a freezing process to create small scars in your heart tissue causing the arrhythmia.

Uses heat to create a small scar targeting the abnormal heart tissue.

Ablation treats heart rhythm conditions

If you are living with an irregular heartbeat, an ablation treatment might help control it. At UW Health, we can use ablation to treat:

  • Atrial fibrillation

  • Atrial flutter

  • SVT (supraventricular tachycardia)

    • Atrioventricular nodal reentrant tachycardia

    • Atrial tachycardia

    • Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome

    • Junctional tachycardia

  • Ventricular tachycardia, including premature ventricular contractions

Is this procedure right for you?

You might benefit from ablation, especially if other treatments for your irregular heartbeat have not worked.

Your doctor will talk with you about your condition and your symptoms. If medicine does not control your heart rhythm or causes side effects, your doctor may recommend ablation.

Treatment process

How ablation works

When you arrive at the hospital for your ablation procedure, you meet with your electrophysiology and anesthesiology teams. You can ask questions before the procedure begins.

Your procedure takes place in a room specifically designed to treat heart rhythm problems, which includes cardiology and X-ray equipment. You lay on an X-ray table with a large camera above it and monitors nearby.

Your heart rhythm is monitored with electrocardiogram (ECG) recordings during the procedure. Your nurse will place ECG pads on your body. These pads can also shock your heart into a regular rhythm during your procedure if needed.

You get medication to keep you comfortable and relaxed during the ablation.

After you are comfortable, depending on the type of abnormal heart rhythm you have, your doctor may:

  • Place catheters through blood vessels in your groin and/or neck

  • Create a hole in the membrane between your right and left atrium

  • Thin your blood with heparin to prevent clotting

  • Create a map of your heart using catheters and CT or MRI scans of your heart

  • Use small electrical currents to trigger your irregular heartbeat

  • Pinpoint the area that triggers your irregular heartbeat

Once the area triggering your irregular heartbeat is located, your doctor:

  • Places a catheter next to the abnormal area of heart tissue

  • Delivers heat or cold energy to eliminate the tissue causing the abnormal heart rhythm.

 You may feel mild chest discomfort when ablation is being performed, and you will likely feel tired and uncomfortable from lying still throughout the procedure.

What to expect after catheter ablation

When your doctor completes the ablation, the catheter is removed and pressure will be applied to the insertion site to prevent bleeding.

You will be asked to stay flat and still in bed for several hours during recovery. This allows a seal to form over the spot where the catheter entered your blood vessel.

Depending on the procedure, you may go home the same day, or you may stay in the hospital overnight for observation. When you return home, you should:

  • Limit your activities for a week

  • Not strain or lift heavy objects

You may feel your heartbeat skip now and then after your procedure. This will often go away on its own after a few weeks

Call your doctor right away if your rapid heartbeat returns or you experience dizziness, chest pain or shortness of breath.

Meet our team

Experts who care

The electrophysiology team at UW Health includes experts in ablation procedures.

Our providers


Ablation locations

We provide specialized catheter ablation at University Hospital and UnityPoint Health – Meriter in Madison.