What you can expect

By Mayo Clinic Staff

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

After your sedative takes effect, your doctor will numb a small area near a vein on your groin, neck or forearm. A needle will be inserted in the vein, and a tube called a sheath will be placed through the needle. The catheter that will be used to perform your ablation will be threaded to your heart through the sheath. A special dye that shows up on X-ray images will be injected through the catheter to help your doctor see the part of your heart that needs to be treated.

The catheter has special electrodes at the tips that will be used during the procedure. Once your doctor finds the area of abnormal tissue that's causing your arrhythmia, he or she will aim the catheter tips at the area. 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 travelling 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:

  • Radiofrequency (heat)
  • Lasers
  • Cryoablation (extreme cold)

Cardiac ablation usually takes three to six 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 to three days. 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. Most people are able to return to their normal activities within a few days of having ablation.

Jun. 22, 2011