What you can expect

By Mayo Clinic Staff

During the procedure

Catheter ablation is performed in the hospital. Before your procedure begins, a specialist will insert an intravenous line into your forearm or hand, and you'll be given a sedative to help you relax.

After your sedative takes effect, your doctor or another specialist will numb a small area near a vein on your groin, neck or forearm. Your doctor will insert a needle into the vein and place a tube (sheath) through the needle.

Your doctor will thread catheters through the sheath and guide them to several places within your heart. Your doctor may inject dye into the catheter, which helps your doctor to see your blood vessels and heart 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 record your heart's electrical activity. This will help your doctor to find the abnormal heart tissue that is causing the arrhythmia in your heart.

Once the abnormal heart tissue that's causing the arrhythmia is identified, your doctor will aim the catheter tips at the area of abnormal heart tissue. Energy will travel through the catheter tips to create a scar or destroy the tissue that triggers your arrhythmia.

In some cases, ablation blocks the electrical signals traveling through your heart to stop the abnormal rhythm and allow signals to travel over a normal pathway instead.

The energy used in your procedure can come from:

  • Heat (radiofrequency)
  • Lasers
  • Extreme cold (cryoablation)

Cardiac ablation usually takes two to four hours to complete, but complicated procedures may take longer. During the procedure, it's possible you'll feel some minor discomfort when the dye is injected in 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

Following your procedure, you'll be moved to a recovery area where you'll need to lie still for four to six hours to prevent bleeding at your catheter site. Your heartbeat and blood pressure will be monitored continuously to check for complications of the procedure.

Depending on your condition, you may be able to go home the same day as your procedure, or you may need to stay in the hospital for one day. If you go home the same day, plan to have someone else drive you home after your procedure.

You may feel a little sore after your procedure, but the soreness shouldn't last more than a week. You'll usually be able to return to your normal activities within a few days after having cardiac ablation.

May. 16, 2014