A normal heartbeat is controlled by a smooth, constant flow of electricity through the heart. A short-circuit anywhere along this electrical pathway can disrupt the normal flow of signals, causing an arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat). Cardiac ablation is a procedure used to destroy these short-circuits and restore normal rhythm, or to block damaged electrical pathways from sending faulty signals to the rest of the heart.
What is an Ablation?
Ablation is performed by an electrophysiologist (EP), a doctor specializing in diagnosing and treating heart rhythm disorders. During catheter ablation, catheters (narrow, flexible tubes) are inserted into a blood vessel, often through a site in the groin (upper thigh) or neck, and guided through the vein until they reach the heart. Small electrodes on the tip of the catheters stimulate and record the heart's activity. This test, called an electrophysiology study (EPS), allows the doctor to pinpoint the exact location of the short circuit. Once the location is confirmed, the short circuit is either destroyed (to reopen the electrical pathway) or blocked (to prevent it from sending faulty signals to the rest of the heart). This is done by sending energy through the catheters to destroy a small amount of tissue at the site. The energy may be either hot (radio frequency energy), which cauterizes the tissue, or extremely cold, which freezes or "cryoablates" it.
Is an Ablation Right for You?
Ablation is used to treat many types of arrhythmias. It is often successful in eliminating the need for open-heart surgery or long-term drug therapy. Ablation may be an option in any of these cases:
- If your arrhythmia cannot be controlled with lifestyle changes or medication.
- If you cannot tolerate or do not want to take medication to treat your arrhythmia.
- If you have a supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), a rapid heartbeat that begins in the upper chambers of the heart.
- If you have ventricular tachycardia (VT), a rapid heartbeat that begins in the lower chambers of the heart. For VT, ablation is sometimes used in combination with an ICD.
What Type of Ablation is Right for Me?
There are a large variety of ablations available to patients with heart rhythm disorders.