When is ablation appropriate?
Ablation is appropriate when a person has abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) that cannot be controlled by lifestyle changes or medications. Some patients cannot or do not wish to take lifelong antiarrhythmic medications and other drugs because of side effects that interfere with their quality of life.
Most often, cardiac ablation is used to treat rapid heartbeats that begin in the upper chambers, or atria, of the heart.
As a group, these are known as:
Supraventricular tachycardias, or SVTs.
Types of SVTs are:
AV nodal reentrant tachycardia
AV reentrant tachycardia
Less frequently, ablation can treat heart rhythm disorders that begin in the heart’s lower chambers.
Medicine often helps. In some cases, however, the most effective treatment is to destroy the tissue housing the short circuit. This procedure is called cardiac ablation. Cardiac ablation is just one of a number of terms used to describe the nonsurgical procedure. Ablations no longer require a full frontal chest opening. Rather, it is a relatively noninvasive procedure that involves inserting catheters, narrow, flexible wires, into a blood vessel, often through a site in the groin or neck, and winding the wire up into the heart. The journey from the entry point to the heart muscle is navigated by images created by a fluoroscope, an x-ray-like machine that provides continuous, “live” images of the catheter and tissue.
Once the catheter reaches the heart, electrodes at the tip of the catheter gather data and a variety of electrical measurements are made. The data pinpoint’s the location of the faulty electrical site. During this “electrical mapping,” the cardiac arrhythmia specialist, an electrophysiologist, may sedate the patient and instigate some of the very arrhythmias that cause the problem. The events are safe, given the range of experts and resources close at hand, and are necessary to ensure the precise location of the problematic tissue. Once the damaged site is confirmed, energy is used to destroy a small amount of tissue, ending the disturbance of electrical flow through the heart and restoring a healthy heart rhythm.
What you can expect?
Patients rarely report pain, but more so discomfort. Some watch much of the procedure on monitors and occasionally ask questions. After the procedure, a patient remains still for four to six hours to ensure the entry point incision begins to heal properly. Once mobile again, patients may feel stiff and achy from lying still for hours.