A cardiac ablation is a procedure performed by an electrophysiologist to remove a small amount of heart tissue. This is one of the most effective and proven forms of therapy to treat an arrhythmia, a condition that causes the heart to beat too fast, too slow or in some other irregular way.
When this happens, an ablation is used to remove the part of the heart tissue that’s contributing to the abnormal heart rhythm.
While cardiac ablation is used to treat arrhythmia, it’s not used in every instance of arrhythmia. Many patients with an abnormal heart rhythm respond to other treatment options, including medications.
Whether an arrhythmia responds effectively to medication depends largely on the type of arrhythmia being experienced.
In cases where medication therapy is not working to alleviate an arrhythmia, a patient may be a candidate for ablation. Of note, a type of arrhythmia called supraventricular tachycardia, a condition caused by abnormal conduction fibers in the heart, is most effectively treated with cardiac ablation.
Ablation may also be recommended in cases where a person experiences side effects from arrhythmia medication or if there’s a risk of cardiac arrest or other complications, such as stroke.
There are three types of ablations, differing by how they’re performed—catheter ablation using radiofrequency and catheter ablation using freezing.
During any type of catheter ablation, a thin tube is inserted into the blood vessel of the groin or wrist and guided up to the heart. Then, utilizing specialized technology, problematic tissues in the heart are removed or destroyed by using radiofrequency (heat cauterization) or through freezing (freeze cauterization). The procedure is guided by the use of specialized 3D mapping, allowing the medical team to precisely identify the ideal location for ablation.
Catheter ablation using freezing, also called cryoablation, is often used to treat atrial fibrillation. During this procedure, a specialized catheter with a “cryoballoon” is used. Once in place, the balloon is inflated and releases a refrigerant that exposes the tissue to extreme cold temperatures, destroying them quickly and safely.
By and large, cardiac ablation is a safe procedure with minimal side effects. In some cases, a person may experience bleeding, pain, or infection where the catheter was inserted during a catheter ablation. After any type of catheter-based procedure, patients are carefully monitored afterward to ensure their incision has healed and they are safe to go home.
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