Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure which involves identifying and targeting areas of the heart which are causing heart rhythm disturbances to arise.
You will normally be asked to arrive in hospital first thing in the morning having been nil by mouth for 6 hours beforehand, but you can drink clear fluids up until 2 hours beforehand. The nursing staff will check you in and go through things with you before inserting an intravenous drip (cannula) and taking any blood tests that are needed.
The doctor doing the procedure will go through things with you again beforehand, and if you are having an anaesthetic then the anaesthetist will meet you before the procedure.
The procedure is carried out in a cardiac catheter laboratory, much like an operating theatre environment. In the room there is a lot of monitoring equipment and computer systems that will record the information for the procedure and allow electrical mapping to be carried out in conjunction with information about the heart’s anatomy where necessary.
Many catheter ablation procedures are carried out under local anaesthetic with intravenous sedation and are performed as day cases so that no overnight hospital stay is necessary. It is quite common to sleep through much of the procedure and not to remember very much about it afterwards. There will be two nurses in the room, one of whom has a dedicated role to make sure that you are comfortable and monitor your observations. There will also be a cardiac physiologist who looks after the technical equipment and a radiographer who manages the X-ray equipment.
Some procedures are carried out under general anaesthetic (mostly ablation of atrial fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia with a background of heart disease) and patients usually stay in hospital for one night afterwards before going home on the next day.
Ablation procedures take between 2 and 5 hours, depending on the nature of the heart rhythm requiring treatment. These procedures are carried out by inserting tiny tubes into the vein at the top of the leg. When the area has been identified which needs to be targeted for treatment, one or more small localised burns are delivered to cause deliberate damage to this area. This process is called ablation. Sometimes freezing is used rather than burning to achieve the same effect. This is not usually uncomfortable but if you experience any discomfort then more pain relief can be given.
Before you go home you will have a discussion with your doctor about the procedure result and should receive a discharge information booklet, with a plan for your follow-up appointment.
Please see the links below about catheter ablation for specific conditions.
It's now a year since my ablation. I'm writing to thank you and say I've never felt better, able to walk a couple of miles, don't get at all breathless, plenty of energy - so thank you again for giving me my life back!
His skill as a surgeon is genuinely inspiring.