Cardiac Ablation

1 What is a Cardiac Ablation?

Cardiac ablation is a procedure that is used to correct heart rhythm problems or arrhythmias.

Usually, this prcedure uses flexible tubes known as catheters inserted through a vein in your groin and threaded to your heart to correct structural problems that cause arrhythmia.

Cardiac ablation works by injuring or destroying tissue that may trigger an abnormal heart rythm.

In some cases, ablations prevents abnormal eletrical signals from travelling through your heart and thus, stops the a rrythmia.

Cardiac ablation is sometimes done through open-heart sugery.

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2 Reasons for Procedure

A patient will need to undergo a cardiac ablation procedure for the following reasons:

When your heart beats, the electrical impulses that cause the contraction must follow a specific pathway through.

Any disturbance of these impulses can result in an arrhythmia, which can sometimes be treated with cardiac ablation. This treatment option is not usually the first.

An ablation is a treatment option for individuals who:

  • Have tried medications to treat arrhythmia without success,
  • have had serious side effects from medications to treat arrhythmias,
  • have a certain type of arrhythmias that respond quite well to ablation, such as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome
  • and have a high risk of complications from their arrhythmias, such as an abrupt cardiac arrest.

3 Potential Risks

The potential risks of cardiac ablation include:

  • bleeding or infection of the area the catheter was inserted
  • damage to your blood vessels where the catheter may cave scraped as it made its way through the heart
  • puncture of your heart
  • damage to your heart's valves
  • damage to your hearts electrical system, which could aggravate your arrhythmia and require a pacemaker
  • blood clots in the legs or lungs (venous thromboembolism)
  • stroke or heart attack
  • narrowing of the veins that carry blood between your heart and lungs (pulmonary vein stenosis)
  • damage to your kidneys
  • and death, in rare cases

Furthermore, your risks of having these complications may increase significantly if you have diabetes or kidney disease.

4 Preparing for your Procedure

In order to prepare for a cardiac ablation procedure, the doctor will make an evaluation of you and proceed to order several tests to evaluate your heart's condition.

He or she will also explain the potential risks and benefits of cardiac ablation.

You are required to stop eat and drinking for a period of about six to eight hours before your procedure.

If you are already under medication, ask you doctor if you should continue taking them before your procedure.

Your doctor will inform you if you need to follow any other instructions before or after the procedure.

In some situations, you will be ordered to stop taking medications to treat a heart arrhythmia several days before your procedure.

If you have an implanted heart device, such as a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, talk to your doctor to see if you require any special precautions.

5 What to Expect

Read on to learn more about what to expect before, during, and after your cardiac ablation procedure.

During the procedure

Cardiac ablation is performed in the hospital. Before the procedure is initiated, a specialist will insert an intravenous line into your forearm or hand, and a sedative will be administered to you to help you relax.

After your sedative has taken effect, your doctor will proceed to numb a small area near a vein in your neck, groin or forearm. He or she will then insert a needle into the vein and place a tube through the needle.

Your doctor will then proceed to thread the catheters through the sheaths and guide them to several places in your heart. Your doctor may also inject dye into the catheter, which helps your doctor see the blood vessels using x-ray imaging.

The catheters have electrodes at the tips that will be used during the procedure. Once in place, the electrodes will send electrical impulses to your heart and further record the electrical activity of your heart.

This will assist the doctor to find the abnormal cardiac tissue causing the arrhythmia.

Once the abnormal heart tissue causing the arrhythmia is identified, your doctor will aim the catheter tips to create a scar or destroy the tissue that triggers your arrhythmia.

In some situations, ablations block electrical signals travelling through your heart to prevent the abnormal rhythm and allow signals to traverse over a normal pathway.

The energy utilised in your procedure can originate from:

  • heat (radiofrequency),
  • lasers and extreme cold (cryoablation).

In most scenarios, cardiac ablation takes two to four hours to complete, but complex procedures may take longer. During this procedure, if possible, you will feel some minor levels of discomfort when the dye is injected into your catheter or when energy is run through the catheter tips.

If you experience any type of severe pain or shortness of breath, you should alert the cardiologist performing the procedure.

After the procedure

After the procedure has been performed, you will be a move to another area to recover. There, you will need to lie still for four to six hours to prevent bleeding at your catheter site.

Your heart beat and blood pressure will also be monitored continuously to check for any complications. You may be able to go home the same day as your procedure, or stay longer in the hospital, this solely depends on your condition.

If you go home the same day, have someone drive you home. It is normal to feel a little sore after the procedure. However, this soreness does not last for more than a week. You will be able to return to you daily routine a few days after the procedure. 

6 Procedure Results

Understanding the results of your cardiac ablation will be made possible by your doctor.

Although cardiac ablation can be a success, some individuals need repeat procedures.

You may also need to take medication even after the ablation.

To keep your heart healthy, you must make lifestyle changes that can improve its overall health.

Your doctor may suggest that you:

  • avoid caffeine
  • use less salt (to help reduce blood pressure)
  • increase your physical activity
  • quit smoking
  • give up drinking alcohol
  • eat healthier
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • and manage strong emotions such as anger