What is catheter ablation?
This is a surgical procedure that is used to correct heart irregularities. It involves the use of radio frequency energy to get rid of the heart tissues that cause irregular and rapid heartbeats. It can also be referred to as radio frequency ablation, and it has proved to be very effective in restoring the heart’s regular heartbeat.
Facts about catheter ablation
- It is used as an alternative treatment for unusual heart rhythms (or arrhythmia) in a case where other medications are ineffective or not recommended due to one reason or another.
- Catheter ablation gets rid of the heart tissues that cause irregularities, while medicines are meant to control the irregular heart tissues that lead to arrhythmia.
- There is very little risk involved with the surgical operation, and it is successful in most cases.
- It is performed in a special room in the hospital known as a cardiac catheterization (cath) or electrophysiology (EP) lab, and it normally lasts for about 2 to 4 hours.
Why you need ablation therapy
Your doctor may recommend ablation therapy in the case of:
ii. Atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation
iii. Accessory pathways
iv. AV Nodal re-entry tachycardia (AVNRT)
Apart from normalizing the heart rhythm in people with arrhythmia, catheter ablation has other numerous health benefits, such as reducing the risk of strokes and blood clots, as well as controlling the heart rate from suffering from rapid arrhythmia.
Why do people have catheter ablation?
Electrical signals created by special cells travel back and forth along pathways in the heart. These signals bring about the balance between the lower and upper chambers of the heart, resulting in a proper heart rhythm. Abnormal cells interfere with the movement of electrical signals, leading to a condition known as arrhythmia in which the heart starts beating irregularly. This condition interferes with the functionality of the heart, and you may experience shortness of breath, weakness, and faintness. You may also feel your heart pounding.
Regular medications to correct the heart irregularities are effective in most cases. However, there are rare cases where they may fail to yield the desired results, and this is when catheter ablation becomes an option. It has been found to be mostly effective in getting rid of a condition known as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), which develops as a result of an interruption of electrical signals movement in the heart. It has also proved to be a success in the treatment of other heart rhythm abnormalities, such as atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter. Catheter ablation gets rid of the damaged tissues without interfering with the other heart tissues.
How to prepare for catheter ablation
How you prepare for ablation depends on whether it is surgical or nonsurgical. Your doctor will update you on any necessary guidelines and instructions to help you prepare. Below is a number of steps to consider during preparation.
- If you are already taking medication to keep your heart rate or any other medical condition in check, your doctor will advise you on which ones to discontinue and when to do so before you undergo the procedure. You may be advised to discontinue some of the drugs up to five days prior to the surgery. If you suffer from diabetes or any other condition that needs constant medication, your doctor can advise you on how to adjust the medication such that they won’t interfere with the procedure.
- You should not take any foods or drinks after midnight prior to the surgery. If any medications must be taken after midnight, make sure to use as little water as possible.
- Put on comfortable clothes when heading to the hospital, and leave all valuables and jewelry at home. A hospital gown will be made available for you to change into.
What to expect during catheter ablation
Nonsurgical catheter ablation involves the following:
- The nonsurgical procedure is normally done in a special hospital room known as the EP (electrophysiology) lab. A nurse will assist you in preparing for the operation. You will then be laid on a bed, and the nurse involved will put an IV line into your arm to be used by the doctors to give you the necessary medications during the catheter ablation. Some of these medications are to help you relax when undergoing the procedure. You may be required to either be awake or not, depending on which ablation you will be undergoing. In a situation where you need to be awake, your doctors may keep you engaged by asking a number of questions. They may ask you to report any symptoms, or you may be required to follow certain instructions given by them. It is always advisable to raise any concerns or ask questions during the procedure.
- The nurse will then connect you to a number of monitors to keep track of your condition.
- Your groin area will then be shaved and cleaned together with your upper chest and neck using an antiseptic solution. You’ll then be covered with sterile drapes from your neck to your feet. All this is done after you become drowsy from the anesthesia.
- The insertion area will be injected with medication to make it numb. Then a number of special wires that can keep track of the heart’s activities (catheters) are inserted into the heart via a large blood vessel and/or arteries in your neck, arm, or groin. It is important to stay still at this moment, especially if you are awake during the procedure, since it is a highly delicate procedure.
- The doctor will then use the monitors to check your heart’s conduction system after the catheters have been well placed.
- The ablation procedure will then begin. Your heart rate may be increased by use of a pacemaker-like device that sends electrical impulses to your heart. It is normal to feel your heart beat become faster and stronger at this point. It is important to update your nurse on any symptoms or any unusual feeling, especially if your arrhythmia occurs in the middle of the procedure. The doctors involved will try to find the area in which the arrhythmia is originating from by moving the catheters inside the heart. The doctor will then apply energy to the affected area. It is important to keep still and stay quiet, despite the discomfort or burning sensation that you might feel. If you feel any pain, let your doctor or nurse know so that he or she may give you the necessary medication.
- The electro physiologist involved will then use the monitoring devices to check for any abnormalities in the electrical signals to make sure everything is back to normal after the procedure.
- The procedure may last for up to eight hours under normal circumstances. However, it may take longer in a few of the cases where complications may arise.
How to take care of the wound site
After the procedure, the wound will be dressed. The dressing may then be removed after a day, and this is the time you should make sure to keep the area dry and as clean as possible to avoid infections. You should contact your doctor in case of any swelling, drainage, or redness in the wound. Taking good care of the wound can greatly help in the recovery process.