Typically, during catheter ablation, your doctor threads several catheters—special long, flexible tubes with wires—through a blood vessel in your groin and up into your heart. Your doctor uses some of these catheters to study your arrhythmia, and others to carefully scar abnormal tissue as treatment for your arrhythmia.
Cather ablation risks
Because a cardiac ablation procedure requires your doctor to insert catheters into your body, there are risks, including:
- Swelling or bruising where the catheters were inserted
- Infection, damage to the heart or blood vessels
- Damage to your heart’s electrical system; if this happens, your doctor may need to implant a pacemaker
- Side effects from the anesthesia, which can vary and depend on a number of health factors
Never forget that your doctor is your best source of information about risks. Be sure to consult with your doctor about risks before you undergo your procedure, and discuss any concerns you might have afterwards.
The catheter ablation procedure
You are likely to be deeply sedated during the procedure. The catheter ablation typically follows these steps:
- Your doctor makes a small cut, usually near your groin, and finds a suitable blood vessel (typically a vein, but sometimes an artery).
- Puncturing the blood vessel (typically a vein, but sometimes an artery) with a needle, your doctor then inserts a diagnostic or ablation catheter, or both.
- Your doctor gently guides the diagnostic catheters toward your heart. He or she follows the catheter’s progress with a kind of X-ray machine called a fluoroscope that allows your doctor to visualize the catheters.
- Using the diagnostic catheter to measure your heart’s electrical activity, your doctor identifies abnormalities and possibly stimulates contractions.
- Your doctor then uses the ablation catheter to deliver energy to either burn or freeze the targeted areas, creating scar tissue.
- You doctor removes the catheters and bandages the insertion site.
Immediate recovery after catheter ablation
After your procedure, your medical team will move you to a recovery area. Depending on your condition, you may be able to go home the same day of your procedure, or you may need to stay in the hospital for a longer period. Your doctor may prescribe blood-thinning or other medication for a period of time after your procedure. Always remember that your doctor is your best source of information about what to expect during your immediate recovery process.