Cardiac Ablation


What Is Cardiac Ablation?

Cardiac ablation, also called catheter ablation, can help correct heart arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), including atrial fibrillation (AFib). Your doctor may recommend cardiac ablation if medicine doesn’t control your heart rhythm problem or you are in danger of experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.

Ablation uses either heat or cold (gentle burning or freezing) to treat small areas of heart muscle that are causing your abnormal heart rhythm.

Overview of the Procedure

Cardiac ablation, also called cardiac catheter ablation, is minimally invasive, meaning there is a lower risk for complications and you may recover more quickly.

During catheter ablation, your doctor threads catheters through a blood vessel in your groin, neck or arm and guides them to your heart. Your doctor then sends energy pulses through the catheters to remove the heart tissue that is causing the arrhythmia.

While we are doing catheter ablation, we may also recommend a minor procedure called hybrid ablation. We can perform the hybrid ablation procedure at the same time as your catheter ablation, which may improve your results.

World-Class Care

Comprehensive Catheter Ablation Care

Aurora Health Care performs more catheter ablation procedures each year than any other health system in Wisconsin. Our extensive experience helps us continually improve our treatment process. You can expect:

  • Expert electrophysiology care: Electrophysiologists, the doctors who perform your catheter ablation, are specialized cardiologists who have up to two years of extra training in electrophysiology treating problems with the heart’s electrical system. We have more than 10 full-time electrophysiologists throughout our health system, ready to help treat your heart rhythm disorders. Meet our cardiac electrophysiologists.
  • Advanced equipment: We regularly update our catheterization and surgical tools. Our focus on improvement means that you’re always getting the best possible cardiac ablation treatment.
  • Minimally invasive emphasis: We perform ablation with catheters whenever possible. If we determine that additional hybrid ablation is right for you, we would only need to add a small upper-abdominal incision.  Our approach means you’ll usually spend less time in the hospital, feel less pain and heal more quickly than you might with traditional surgery.

Learn more about cardiac electrophysiology at Aurora.

Is It For You?

Are You a Candidate for Catheter Ablation?

To determine whether ablation might help control your heart rhythm problem, your doctor will evaluate you thoroughly. In addition to reviewing your medical history and doing a full physical exam, your doctor may order these tests:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): A test that uses electrodes attached to your chest to monitor your heart’s electrical activity. Learn more about EKGs.
  • Heart ultrasound (echocardiogram): Sound waves that help create images of your heart. Learn more about echocardiograms.
  • Holter monitor: A portable EKG monitor that you wear home for a set period of time.

Learn more about heart and vascular testing and diagnosis at Aurora.

Preparing for Treatment

How to Get Ready for Your Catheter Ablation Treatment

Your doctor will give you personalized instructions on how to prepare for ablation treatment. They may include:

  • Stop taking any anti-arrhythmia medication several days before your treatment. Your doctor will tell you exactly when.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions on what medications you may continue taking before treatment and when.
  • Don’t eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your procedure. If you have diabetes, your doctor may give you special instructions.

What to Expect

What Happens During Catheter Ablation?

Your ablation procedure will take place at an Aurora hospital, in one of our electrophysiology labs.

Depending on the specific procedure you’re having, it can take up to six hours. Your doctor will let you know if you can go home the same day, or whether you’ll need to stay in the hospital for a few days to recover.

Although every ablation procedure is unique, you can generally expect:

  1. We’ll ask you to change out of your clothes and into a hospital gown.
  2. A medical team member will insert an intravenous (IV) line into your arm. Depending on how long we expect the ablation to take, we’ll either give you a mild sedative to relax you or general anesthesia that will put you to sleep.
  3. We’ll attach electrocardiogram (EKG) electrodes to your chest. We’ll monitor your heart rate, blood pressure and other vital signs throughout the ablation treatment.
  4. After numbing the area in your groin, neck or arm, your doctor will insert a thin, flexible catheter tube into one of your blood vessels. We'll guide the catheter to your heart with the help of special X-ray images.
  5. Once we identify the areas of heart tissue that are causing your arrhythmias (using a pacemaker-like device to stimulate your heart), your doctor will send small pulses of energy through the catheter. This energy creates a barrier between the small areas of tissue responsible for your abnormal heart rhythm and other healthy tissue. You may feel some discomfort during this part of the process, but it shouldn’t be painful.

After Your Procedure

We’ll monitor you after we finish with the ablation process to make sure we’ve corrected all the arrhythmias.

After we remove the catheters and cover the insertion sites with sterile bandages, you’ll need to stay in bed for several hours at the hospital. We’ll continue to watch your heart activity and make sure you’re recovering well.

Your doctor will also talk to you and your family about the ablation procedure results.


Recovering from Catheter Ablation

We’ll give you detailed instructions about your home care after your ablation procedure. However, our general guidelines include the following:

  • If you go home the same day, you’ll need someone to drive you home from the hospital. If you are staying in the hospital for a few days, you may be able to drive yourself home.
  • Ask your doctor what medicines to stop or continue taking while you recover.
  • You may feel some soreness at your catheter puncture sites, but it should go away within about a week.
  • You probably can go back to all your regular daily activities within a few days. Check with your doctor.

Depending on the results of your ablation procedure, you may still need to take medication to help control arrhythmias. Some people may need repeat cardiac ablation treatment at some point. Your doctor will let you know what to expect over the long term.

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