Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive surgical procedure used to treat heart arrhythmia, a condition where there is a problem with the rhythm or the rate of your heartbeat. Also known as cardiac ablation, this procedure involves guiding a small tube, or catheter, through the veins and into the heart where electrodes at the end of the catheter are used to eliminate the heart cells causing arrhythmia. Catheter ablation is most often recommended for patients whose arrhythmia cannot be managed by medication or other forms of treatment.
The catheter ablation procedure typically lasts 3 to 4 hours. After the patient is sedated (either IV sedation or general anesthesia), the doctor makes a small incision in the skin of the groin (and, rarely, the arm or neck) after which a guide wire and catheter are inserted and then directed through the blood vessels to the heart. The electrodes are used to stimulate the heart and find the problem areas that are causing the arrhythmia. These areas are usually quite small, roughly one-fifth of an inch. Using radiofrequency energy to heat the tissue or cryoablation to freeze the tissue, the electrophysiologist then destroys or "ablates" the problem cells. After the ablation, the electrical signals that caused the arrhythmia will no longer be sent to the rest of the heart.
Catheter ablation is not painful, though patients may feel some discomfort while the catheter is in the chest. Following the ablation procedure patients must rest for at least 4 hours while being monitored.
Patients seeking a catheter ablation or requiring other coronary disease treatment at a Boston cardiology center can receive world-class treatment and compassionate care at the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in Boston.
Learn more about catheter ablation at BWH.
Catheter ablation and other treatments for arrhythmia at BWH
The Shapiro Cardiovascular Center at BWH is the leading center for cardiovascular care center of its kind in the region and is consistently ranked as one of the top programs for coronary disease treatment and heart surgery in the U.S.
The Center's Cardiac Arrhythmia Service is recognized as a premier provider for the diagnosis and treatment of the most complex kinds of heart rhythm disorders, including atrial fibrillation treatment and ventricular tachycardia treatment. As one of the most experienced services of its kind in the country, the Cardiac Arrhythmia Service provides personalized care and expertise to guide patients through each step of their catheter ablation treatment.
Alternatives to catheter ablation
Electrophysiologists treating patients with cardiac arrhythmia may recommend a variety of treatment options, including:
- Medication to stabilize the heartbeat.
- Electrical cardioversion, where an electrical current is sent through the chest to reset the heartbeat to a normal rhythm.
- Procedures using implantable devices such as a pacemaker surgery or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator.
- Surgical ablation – open heart surgery to locate and destroy the tissue causing the arrhythmia.
Learn more about Catheter Ablation Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.