Radiofrequency ablation for tachyarrhythmia

This nonsurgical procedure is used to treat some types of rapid heart beating, such as 
atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter and atrial tachycardia. It's most often used to treat supraventricular tachyarrhythmias. These are rapid, uncoordinated heartbeats starting in the heart's upper chambers (atria) or middle region (AV node or the very beginning portion of the heart's electrical system).  

 How is radiofrequency ablation done?
A physician guides a catheter with an electrode at its tip to the area of heart muscle where the damaged site is located. Then a mild, painless radiofrequency energy (similar to microwave heat) is transmitted to the site of the pathway. Heart muscle cells in a very small area (about 1/5 of an inch) die and stop conducting the extra impulses that caused the rapid heartbeats.

How effective and safe is this procedure?
Radiofrequency ablation has a success rate of over 90 percent, a low risk of complications and the patient can resume normal activities in a few days. It causes little or no discomfort and is done under mild sedation with local anesthesia. For these reasons, it's now widely used and is the preferred treatment for many types of rapid heartbeats.


Radiofrequency ablation that is done through a catheter to the targeted site is a transcatheter approach. Newer advances now permit therapeutic ablations using a transcatheter approach. In this technique, an electrode catheter inserted through a blood vessel during electrophysiologic studies is used to perform targeted electrocautery in the heart. A patient may be cured of tachycardia through ablative therapy, so antiarrhythmic medication is no longer needed. Transcatheter ablation is rapidly becoming the treatment of choice for many supraventricular tachycardias.

What is catheter ablation?

Catheter ablation is a procedure that uses radiofrequency energy (similar to microwave heat) to destroy a small area of heart tissue that is causing rapid and irregular heartbeats. Destroying this tissue helps restore your heart’s regular rhythm. The procedure is also called radiofrequency ablation.

Quick facts
Why do people have catheter ablation?
Special cells in your heart create electrical signals that travel along pathways to the chambers of your heart. These signals make the heart’s upper and lower chambers beat in the proper sequence. Abnormal cells may create disorganized electrical signals that cause irregular or rapid heartbeats called arrhythmias. When this happens, your heart may not pump blood effectively and you may feel faint, short of breath and weak. You may also feel your heart pounding.

Medicines to treat rapid and irregular heartbeats work very well for most people. But they don’t work for everyone, and they may cause side effects in some people. In these cases, doctors may suggest catheter ablation. The procedure is used most often to treat a condition called supraventricular tachycardia, or SVT, which occurs because of abnormal conduction fibers in the heart. Catheter ablation is also used to help control other heart rhythm problems such as atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation. Catheter ablation destroys the abnormal tissue without damaging the rest of the heart.

What are the risks of catheter ablation?

There are few risks. Fewer than 5 percent of people who have the procedure develop any problems. The most common problems result from the use of the catheters – long, thin tubes doctors insert into your arteries or veins. Inserting the tubes can occasionally damage your blood vessel or cause bleeding or infection. These problems are rare. 

How should I prepare for catheter ablation? What happens during catheter ablation?
A doctor with special training performs the procedure along with a team of nurses and technicians. The procedure is done in a hospital EP or cath lab.
NOTE:  During this procedure, the tip of a catheter is guided to the area of heart tissue that is producing abnormal electrical signals. Then the catheter emits a pulse of painless radiofrequency energy that destroys the abnormal tissue and corrects the irregular heartbeat.

What happens after catheter ablation?

You’ll be moved to a recovery room. The sheath usually stays in your leg for several hours after catheter ablation. During this time, you have to lie flat. 
After the doctor or nurse removes the sheath:
What happens after I get home?
Follow the instructions your nurse or doctor gave you. Most people can return to their normal activities on the day after they leave the hospital.
Call 9-1-1 if you notice: Call your doctor if: How can I learn more about catheter ablation? 
Talk with your doctor. Here are some good questions to ask: