Radiofrequency (RF) ablation uses high-energy, locally delivered RF signals to make the scars. Cryoablation uses extremely cold temperatures to make the scars. Sometimes, laser light energy is used. Catheter ablation is used to treat certain types of arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, that cannot be controlled by medicine or if you have a high risk for ventricular fibrillation (v-fib), sudden cardiac arrest, or atrial fibrillation.
Cardiologists, or doctors who specialize in the heart, will perform catheter ablation in a hospital. You will be awake, but you will receive medicine through an intravenous (IV) line in your arm to relax you during the procedure. Machines will measure your heart’s activity. All types of ablation require cardiac catheterization to place flexible tubes, or catheters, inside your heart to make the scars. Your doctor will clean and numb an area on your arm, groin or upper thigh, or neck before making a small hole in a blood vessel. Your doctor will thread a series of catheters through the blood vessel to the correct place in your heart. An x ray imaging method called fluoroscopy will let your doctor see the catheters as they are moved into your heart. Some catheters have wire electrodes that record and locate the source of your abnormal heartbeats. Your doctor will aim the tip of a special catheter at the small area of heart tissue. A machine will send either RF waves, extremely cold temperatures, or laser light through the catheter to create a scar called the ablation line. This scar forms a barrier that prevents electrical impulses from crossing between the damaged heart tissue to the surrounding healthy tissue. This will stop abnormal electrical signals from traveling to the rest of the heart and causing arrhythmias.
After catheter ablation, your doctor will remove the catheters and close and bandage the opening on your arm, groin, or neck. You may develop a bruise and soreness where the catheters were inserted. You will stay in the hospital for a few hours or overnight. During this time, your heart rate and blood pressure will be monitored. Your movement will be limited to prevent bleeding in the area where the catheters were inserted. You will need a ride home after the procedure because of the medicines or anesthesia you received.
Catheter ablation has some risks, including bleeding, infection, blood vessel damage, heart damage, arrhythmias, and blood clots. There also may be a very slight risk of cancer from radiation used during catheter ablation. Talk to your doctor and the technicians performing the test about whether you are or could be pregnant. If the procedure is not urgent, they may have you wait until after your pregnancy. If it is urgent, the technicians will take extra steps to protect your baby during catheter ablation.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) leads or sponsors many studies aimed at preventing, diagnosing, and treating heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders.