What you can expect

During cardiac ablation

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. In some situations, general anesthesia may be used instead to place you in a sleep-like state. What type of anesthesia you receive depends on your particular situation.

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 care team see your blood vessels and heart using X-ray imaging. The catheters have electrodes at the tips that can be used to send electrical impulses to your heart and record your heart's electrical activity.

This process of using imaging and other tests to determine what's causing your arrhythmia is called an electrophysiology (EP) study. An EP study is usually done before cardiac ablation in order to determine the most effective way to treat your arrhythmia.

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:

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

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 catheter is moved in your heart and when energy is being delivered. If you experience any type of severe pain or shortness of breath, let your doctor know.

After cardiac ablation

Following your procedure, you'll be moved to a recovery area to rest quietly 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. 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.