The ablation procedure is used to treat abnormal heart rhythms or arrhythmias. Ablation can be performed surgically or non-surgically, which is determined by the type of arrhythmia and the presence of another heart disease.
Non-surgical ablation can be used for many types of arrhythmias. It is performed in a special lab called the electrophysiology (EP) laboratory.
During the procedure, the physician (an electrophysiologist) will insert several long, thin, flexible tubes with wires (called catheters) into the heart through blood vessels.
With special machine energy (hot or cold) is directed through the catheter to small areas of the heart muscle that causes the abnormal heart rhythm.
By this, the pathway of the abnormal rhythm is then disconnected. A catheter ablation for atrial fibrillation may last 4 to 8 hours. Oftentimes more than one ablation must be done to permanently cure atrial fibrillation.
Surgical ablation can be performed in few ways and can be used for treating atrial fibrillation, which can be "minimally invasive" or traditional "open" surgery and may be combined with other surgical therapies such as bypass surgery, valve repair, or valve replacement.
The Maze procedure
This is a traditional open-heart surgical procedure. During the procedure, a number of incisions are made in the heart to form scar tissue, which does not conduct electricity and disrupts the path of abnormal electrical impulses. After the heart heals, scar tissue forms and the abnormal electrical impulses are blocked from traveling through the heart.
The modified Maze procedure
The difference between a standard Maze procedure and this one is that the modified Maze procedure involves a single incision in the left atrium.
Minimally invasive surgical ablation
Opposite traditional heart surgery, there is no large chest wall incision and the heart is not stopped. In these procedures, smaller incisions and endoscopes (small, lighted instruments that contain a camera) are used.
After non-surgical catheter ablation, pressure is applied to the site where the catheters were to prevent bleeding. The patient must be on bed rest for one to six hours and usually stays overnight in the hospital. Full recovery takes about a few weeks (depending on the details of the procedure, the robustness of the patient, and the type of activity).
After the surgical procedure, the patient is usually transferred to an intensive care unit (ICU) for close monitoring for about 1 to 2 days after the surgery. The patient can be transferred to a regular nursing unit (called a telemetry unit) when the patient's condition is stable.
Most patients stay in the hospital about 5 to 7 days after the procedure, depending on their rate of recovery. Patients who had minimally invasive surgery may be able to go home 2 to 3 days after surgery. Full recovery from surgery takes about 6 to 8 weeks. Most patients are able to drive in about 3 to 8 weeks after surgery.