What it’s for
Every beat of heart is triggered by an electrical impulse. This impulse starts in a node within the heart’s right atrium, then travels through the rest of the heart. In some people, that electrical impulse starts traveling on the wrong pathway. This can cause heart rhythm problems like an arrhythmia, otherwise known as palpitations.
An arrhythmia can often be treated with medications. Another method of treating an arrhythmia is a catheter ablation. In a catheter ablation, an electrophysiologist (cardiologist) creates tiny scars in a few of the cells of your heart. These scarred cells create a “roadblock” for the electricity in your heart, forcing the impulses to travel on the right path. Catheter ablations can frequently cure an arrhythmia completely, so patients no longer have any symptoms or need medications.
Catheter ablation is used to treat many rhythm problems, including atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia. Atrial fibrillation is a “fluttering” of the heart’s upper chambers. Ventricular tachycardia is rapid heart beat in the lower chambers that is potentially life threatening.
How it’s done
Catheter ablations are performed in the Electrophysiology Lab. Patients remain awake during this procedure. The patient first receives a medication through an IV to help you relax. A small incision is made in the groin area. Thin tubes called catheters are then inserted into this incision. With the help of x-ray images, the catheters are threaded up to the heart. Your electrophysiologist uses the catheters to detect the faulty electrical pathways that are causing the arrhythmia.
Electrodes on the end of the catheter are then used to create tiny scars on the wall of the heart. These scars act as roadblocks to keep the heart’s electrical impulses traveling in the right direction.
Catheter ablations typically take from 3-6 hours, depending on complexity. After the ablation procedure, the patient needs to wait several hours in the recovery area.
Most patients who have ablation procedures go home the same day, while some patients need to stay overnight in the hospital.
Catheter ablations are considered a minimally invasive procedure. Even so, there are several risks that patients should know about:
· Bleeding from the incision site
· Puncture of the heart
· Damage to blood vessels by catheter
· Blood clots
· Worsened arrhythmia symptoms