Radiofrequency Ablation

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By scarring or destroying tissues in the heart that trigger abnormal heart rhythms, radiofrequency ablation (also called catheter ablation) treats certain types of arrhythmias.

Doctors may recommend radiofrequency ablation in cases where an abnormally fast heartbeat has not responded as expected to medication.

Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure
Radiofrequency ablation is performed in a special operating room called a cardiac catheterization laboratory (cath lab). The entire procedure lasts between three and six hours.

In addition to relaxing sedatives, patients receive a local anesthetic to numb the catheter insertion site. The doctor uses a needle to make a small incision in the arm or groin and inserts a tapered tube called a sheath into the hole.

Several catheters are inserted through the sheath and navigated through a blood vessel to the correct place in the heart, guided by an imaging method called fluoroscopy. Some catheters contain electrodes to stimulate the heart and record its electrical activity so the doctor can find the source of the irregular heartbeat. Each catheter is designed to deliver electrical energy to a specific area.

When the doctor locates the arrhythmia source, a special machine delivers energy through the catheter to create a scar line, also called an ablation line. The scar line creates a barrier between the damaged tissue and the surrounding healthy tissue, which prevents abnormal electrical signals from traveling to the rest of the heart.
When the ablation is complete, the doctor removes the catheters and the sheath and closes the opening in the blood vessel.

Radiofrequency Ablation Recovery
It normally takes four to six hours for the catheter insertion site to close properly on its own, while the patient rests comfortably in a special care unit. During this time, a care team regularly checks the patient's blood pressure, temperature and other vital signs.

Before leaving the hospital, the patient receives specific instructions to optimize his or her recovery at home, including information about any activity restrictions, taking medications and caring for the catheter insertion site.

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