What is cardiac ablation?

If your heart has an irregular rhythm — whether constantly or occasionally — you should make an appointment with your primary care doctor or a cardiologist. There are several causes for an abnormal heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, and different ways to treat it. One way is cardiac catheter ablation, a procedure that corrects a heart rhythm problem by selectively destroying areas of the heart that are triggering the abnormal rhythm.

The electrical impulses that make your heart beat travel through specific paths inside your heart. If those pathways are altered or bypassed by other abnormal ones the electrical impulses can cause an abnormal heart rhythm. By disrupting the abnormal heart tissue, the errant electrical signals causing the arrhythmia are not able to get through. They therefore reroute to the normal pathways.

The most frequently diagnosed form of cardiac arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation, which affects 2.2 million Americans. Atrial fibrillation occurs when the heart’s electrical system causes the top chambers to quiver, upsetting the normal rhythm between the upper and lower chambers. This condition can cause heart palpitations, weakness, shortness of breath, and even serious complications such as a stroke.

Two other types of cardiac arrhythmias are supraventricular tachycardia (fast heart rhythm in the  upper chamber) and ventricular tachycardia (fast heart rhythm in the lower chamber). All three types of arrhythmias can be treated with catheter ablation.

To ask questions or to make an appointment, call the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute at 1-855-876-2484.

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What Is Cardiac Catheter Ablation?

Cardiac catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure to remove or destroy heart tissue that’s causing abnormal electrical signals to move through the heart. Using long, flexible tubes, or catheters, the doctor first places electrodes to measure the heart’s electrical activity. Once the source of the problem is located, the doctor can destroy the abnormal tissue using radiofrequency (heat), cryoablation (cold), or laser energy. The procedure usually takes around two to four hours.

Who Is a Good Candidate for Cardiac Catheter Ablation?

Depending on the type of arrhythmia you have, your doctor may recommend ablation as the first line of treatment. People who undergo cardiac catheter ablation may have tried antiarrhythmic medications unsuccessfully or had serious side effects from them. Some types of arrhythmia respond better to catheter ablation than to medications.

Your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits before you elect to have the procedure. Although unlikely, complications include blood clots, blood vessel damage, bleeding, heart puncture, unanticipated damage to the heart’s electrical system, and even death.

Cardiac Catheter Ablation Recovery

After the ablation procedure, you will rest for up to six hours in the recovery area where the staff will monitor your heart, blood pressure, and other vital signs, and watch for any bleeding. Some patients go home the same day, while some stay overnight at the hospital. After the procedure, you may have chest or back soreness for up to a week. Most patients resume their regular activities within a few days.

If you are experiencing any arrhythmia symptoms, the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute can provide a diagnosis and develop an individualized treatment plan. For more information or to make an appointment, call 1-855-876-2484.