Sometimes, the electrical system within the heart can become chaotic due to extra electrical connections known as pathways within the heart. Catheter ablation is a technique used to treat a variety of heart rhythm disorders by blocking the pathways that are causing the arrhythmia. Catheter ablation is a common treatment for atrial fibrillation.
Catheter ablation is a minimally-invasive procedure, that is usually performed using local anaesthetic. Most patients are also given some sedation.
During the procedure a thin tube called a catheter will be inserted into a vein, usually at the top of the leg, from where it is navigated through the blood vessels to the heart. Fine wires are then passed through the tubes and positioned at certain locations within the heart. The wires are used to stimulate the heart tissue, revealing the origin of the arrhythmia. Your doctor will then block the pathway, and eliminate any problem cells, using energy delivered through the wires to create scar tissue. The creation of scar tissue to block electrical signals in the heart is called ablation.
After the ablation
Once the procedure has finished, the wires and catheter will be removed and you will spend a few hours recovering on the ward.
Most people recover quickly from the procedure and feel well enough to carry on with normal activities the following day. However, you should avoid heavy lifting for about two weeks afterwards.
The DVLA states that you must not drive for two days after the ablation. If you work, you may wish to take a few days off to recover fully.
Following the ablation, it is quite common to be aware of your own heartbeat, even in normal rhythm. Some people are aware of extra or “missed” beats. Try not to worry too much about these symptoms, which usually settle down with time.
If you experience palpitations or a racing heartbeat, you should report this to your doctor, as this may indicate that the procedure has not been completely successful.
The benefit of having a catheter ablation is that your heart rhythm disturbance is cured without the need of ongoing medication. This is possible in the vast majority of cases; however, a small number of individuals will need more than one session of treatment.