Heart ablation, also known as cardiac ablation, refers to a group of procedures aimed at correcting irregular heartbeats, known as arrhythmias. These procedures involve the removal or destruction of tissue in the heart that generates these abnormal electrical impulses. During the process, a heart specialist, or cardiologist, employs either heat or cold to create small scars in the heart’s tissue. These scars are strategic; they’re placed where they can effectively prevent the generation and propagation of erratic heartbeats. The typical method for performing cardiac ablation involves inserting flexible, slender tubes called catheters through the blood vessels. However, it can also be performed less frequently during heart surgery.
Healthcare professionals utilize various methods to conduct heart ablation, aiming to correct irregular heart rhythms through either a catheter procedure, surgery, or a blend of both approaches.
Cardiac ablation may be recommended when medications are ineffective at managing arrhythmias, when significant side effects from such drugs occur, or for treating specific arrhythmias such as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome or supraventricular tachycardia, which respond well to this intervention. It is also an option for individuals at high risk of severe arrhythmia complications.
This procedure can correct various types of irregular heartbeats, including:
Doctors can use a combination of treatments, surgery, or a minimally invasive catheter procedure to achieve heart ablation.
Heart ablation carries a higher likelihood of side effects when performed surgically compared to when it’s done using a catheter. The risks associated with this procedure can include:
Cardiac ablation is a hospital-based procedure where a specialist, either a cardiologist or cardiac surgeon, will administer sedation through an IV in your forearm or hand to help you relax. The level of sedation varies from being fully alert to deeply sedated or under general anesthesia, depending on the type of arrhythmia and other health issues you may have.
This procedure is carried out by a cardiologist or cardiac surgeon who will perform a comprehensive evaluation of your heart and general health to determine the most suitable ablation technique. Prior to the procedure, you’ll receive detailed instructions from your provider. You may need to discontinue any blood-thinning medications such as aspirin or warfarin and halt any arrhythmia treatment, but only under your provider’s advice. Fasting the night before the procedure is also commonly required. Moreover, if you’re undergoing an outpatient ablation, it’s essential to arrange transportation as you will not be in a position to drive yourself home post-procedure.
During a heart ablation procedure, whether it’s a catheter ablation or a surgical ablation, the following steps are taken by medical professionals:
Patients may experience some discomfort during the catheter maneuvering and energy delivery. It’s important to immediately inform the health care provider of any severe pain or breathing difficulties.
Catheter ablation typically has a shorter recovery period compared to surgical ablation. The details of each recovery process are as follows:
Catheter ablation typically lasts two to four hours and involves the removal of the catheter and sheath from your vein once completed. Subsequently, you will be moved to a recovery room, where you may stay for several hours, occasionally overnight, under the supervision of a nurse who monitors your recovery. Before your discharge, you will receive detailed guidance on at-home care, which may include a prescription for aspirin or other blood-thinning medications to prevent blood clots during the recovery period, which can extend for several months.
After undergoing surgical ablation, your post-operative care will involve being transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), with the length of your ICU stay determined by the complexity of the surgery. Following your discharge from the ICU, your recovery will continue within the hospital setting for a few more days, until you have reached an adequate level of improvement to be safely discharged home. Throughout your home recovery period, you might still need to adhere to a regimen of aspirin or other blood-thinning medications for several months as a precautionary measure against the development of blood clots.
The recovery time after heart ablation varies depending on the type of procedure: catheter ablation, a hybrid approach, or surgical ablation. It can range from a few days to several weeks or even months. It’s common to experience arrhythmias during the healing process, which can last up to three months. Your doctor may recommend continuing anti-arrhythmia medication during this time.
If you’ve had a catheter ablation, you can usually return to work within a day or two. However, if your job involves physical labor, you may need a few extra days off.
After catheter ablation, avoid heavy lifting and strenuous activities for at least three days. Discuss with your doctor when it’s safe to resume physical activities.
With surgical ablation, you’ll typically spend about a week in the hospital. Once home, it may take several more weeks to recover enough to return to work. If you had a less-invasive surgical procedure, your recovery may be shorter.
After ablation, contact your healthcare provider if you experience:
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