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Catheter Ablation for Atrial Fibrillation

Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive technique that can be used when medication fails to control the heart rhythm.

The goal of catheter ablation is to prevent unwanted electrical currents from traveling from the pulmonary veins and spreading to the upper chambers of the heart. The pulmonary veins are large blood vessels that carry blood from the lungs to the left atrium. During the procedure, catheters are used to terminate (ablate) these abnormal electrical circuits and stop them from spreading and continuing to cause Afib.

There are two types of catheter ablation techniques: Cryoablation and Radiofrequency (RF) Ablation.

Why You May Need Cryoablation

Your doctor may recommend cryoablation if you have an abnormal heart rhythm. If your heart beats too fast, too slow, or irregularly, cryoablation can often treat the problem. You may be a candidate for this procedure if: 

  • You are at high risk of complications from your irregular heartbeat
  • Medicines haven’t worked
  • You had serious side effects from medicines
  • Your type of irregular heartbeat responds well to ablation

Cryoablation is also an emergency treatment for an irregular heartbeat that is life threatening. For more information about cryoablation, speak with a doctor at Dignity Health.

What to Expect with Cryoablation at Dignity Health

Your cryoablation is performed at St. John's Regional Medical Center. You’re sedated so you don’t feel any pain. Your doctor inserts a catheter (a) thin, flexible tube into an artery in your leg, arm, or neck and moves it towards your heart. Once the catheter is positioned, your doctor determines the location of the abnormal electrical signals and delivers very cold liquid to freeze the tissues causing your irregular heartbeat.

Cryoablation can take several hours. Once complete, you’ll need to lie still for a few hours. In some cases, you might need to stay in a cardiac care unit overnight for observation.


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Cryoablation Recovery & Life Afterwards

Once home, you’ll need to rest and take it easy for several days. In most instances, you’ll be able to go back to work or your normal routine within a few days. Talk with your doctor about when you can return to strenuous activities, such as exercise.

Most cryoablation procedures are successful, but you should take extra steps to keep your heart healthy. Healthy lifestyle habits your doctor may suggest include:

  • Reducing stress
  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Being physically active
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

Radiofrequency Ablation

This nonsurgical procedure is used to treat some types of rapid heart beating, such as atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter and atrial tachycardia. During the procedure a physician guides a catheter with an electrode at its tip to the area of the heart muscle where the damaged site is located. Then a mild, painless radiofrequency energy (similar to microwave heat) is transmitted to the site of the pathway. Heart muscle cells in a very small area die and stop conducting the extra impulses that caused the rapid heartbeats.

Why Radiofrequency Ablation is Performed

If you have an irregular heart rhythm, it means that some cells in your heart (called pacemaker cells) are sending abnormal electrical signals across your heart. These improper signals can cause an arrhythmia, such as atrial fibrillation (AFib). Your cardiologist may recommend a procedure such as radiofrequency ablation to help restore a normal rhythm in your heart.

What to Expect from Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that will be performed at Dignity Health’s St. John's Regional Medical Center by one of our expert cardiologists. The procedure lasts about four hours. However, you should plan to spend all day at the hospital. You’ll be given anesthesia to make you sleep.

During the cardiology procedure, your doctor will insert a thin, flexible tube (catheter) into a large blood vessel in your groin, arm, or neck. The catheter will be fed toward your heart, allowing your doctor to assess the electrical activity in your heart and find the cells that are causing the irregular heart rhythm.

When the abnormal cells are located, a special catheter tip that generates heat energy will be applied to the cells. You may feel a slight burning sensation as the heat destroys these cells. This is normal, and you shouldn’t feel any pain.

Radiofrequency Ablation Recovery

Once the cardiology procedure is over, you’ll stay in the recovery area for one to six hours or more. During this time, pressure will be applied to the puncture site in your groin, arm, or neck to help it seal. You may be able to return home the same day. Someone will need to drive you home.

Your care team will provide clear instructions on how to care for your incision and what kinds of activities are safe to perform while you recover. Radiofrequency ablation may correct your heart arrhythmia forever, or you might need ongoing treatment and monitoring.