Atrial Fibrillation Ablation
What is Atrial Fibrillation Ablation?
Atrial fibrillation ablation is a procedure that treats arrhythmia that begins in the heart’s upper chamber (the atria). When you have atrial fibrillation you experience irregular and rapid heartbeats that can increase heart complications such as a heart attack or stroke. When this happens, your heart’s two upper chambers (the atria) beat irregular and out of tune with the two lower chambers (the ventricles). During the procedure, your doctor will thread catheters into a blood vessel in your groin and guide them inside your heart. Once in the targeted area, your doctor will either freeze or burn heart tissue to cause scarring that prevents the abnormal, out of sync electrical signals.
Why Atrial Fibrillation Ablation is Done
Atrial fibrillation ablation is mainly done to help control symptoms and does not eliminate the need for blood thinners prescribed to prevent strokes. If the medication is not controlling your symptoms, your doctor may recommend ablation to rectify the problem. If you have atrial fibrillation you may experience:
- Palpitations such as a racing heart and irregular heartbeat.
- Weakness and fatigue.
- Dizziness and shortness of breath.
- Chest pain.
- Inability to exercise.
Atrial Fibrillation Ablation Potential Risks and Complications
The risks of atrial fibrillation ablation will vary on whether you’re having a catheter ablation or open-heart surgery. Risks may include:
- Bleeding or infection at the catheter insertion site.
- Damage to your blood vessels.
- Damage to your heart valves.
- Damage to your heart’s electrical system.
- Puncture of your heart.
- Stroke or heart attack.
Your doctor will discuss the benefits and risks of this procedure so you can make an informed decision.
Preparing for Atrial Fibrillation Ablation
Your doctor will give you specific instructions on preparing for atrial fibrillation ablation. Instructions may include:
What to Expect
What to Expect During Atrial Fibrillation Ablation
Before the Procedure
Before the procedure, you’ll have an intravenous line inserted in your arm or hand and given a sedative to help you relax. For some conditions, you may be given general anesthesia to put you in a sleep state. Then the area in your groin where the catheters will be inserted will be numbed and your doctor will thread the catheters to several places in your heart. You may have dye injected into the catheter so your blood vessels and heart can be clearly visible using X-ray imaging. There are three types of atrial fibrillation ablation:
A catheter ablation is done when your doctor threads long, thin catheters and applies heat or extreme cold to cause scarring.
The maze procedure is performed during open-heart surgery. This is when your doctor creates a maze of scar tissue using a scalpel or heat or cold.
AV node ablation
An AV node ablation is when your doctor uses catheters to create scarring in your heart’s AV node, the point in your heart that connects the upper chambers (atria) to the lower chambers (ventricles).
During the Procedure
The procedure can take from three to six hours. You will probably feel some discomfort during the procedure, especially when the dye is injected. Be sure to tell your doctor if you experience severe pain or shortness of breath.
After the Procedure
You will be in recovery for several hours to make sure you’re not bleeding at the puncture site and to monitor your heart beat and blood pressure. You may be sent home and if you do, please have someone drive you home. You’ll be sore at the puncture site for a couple of days and you should be able to return to your normal activities within a few days.