What is an ablation?

An ablation is a procedure performed to treat abnormal heart rhythms.  It is often performed after an electrophysiology study has identified the cause of the abnormal heart rhythm.  The cause of many abnormal heart rhythms is either is a procedure performed to evaluate the electrical properties of the heart.  The procedure is performed in the electrophysiology laboratory in the hospital.  The patient is given intravenous sedation which makes them sleepy but easily arousable.  Location anesthesia is also used.  Once the patient is comfortable, catheters are inserted from the femoral vein in the groin and advanced to the heart.  The catheters are then used to determine if the patient has evidence of abnormal fast or slow heart rhythms.  Once this determination is made, a specific treatment recommendation can be made. 

How long does the procedure take?

The procedure generally takes one to two hours.  

Is the procedure painful?

Patients are given local anesthesia in the groins where we access the veins used to advance the catheters to the heart.  We also give patients sedation through their intravenous line.  This sedation makes the procedure quite comfortable for our patients.  We do not “knock patients out” which requires general anesthesia and placement of a breathing tube.  We can make our patients comfortable with lighter sedation and prefer to avoid the risks of general anesthesia.

What are the potential complications?

The risk of an ablation is less than 1% but would include such things as bleeding, blood clots, injury to blood vessels or the heart, heart attack, stroke or death.   

What is the recovery?

Most patients are fully awake at the end of their ablation.  Patients are kept on bedrest for several hours before being able to walk around.  While some patients require overnight observation, most patients are discharged to home the same day as their ablation.  Patients often notice some mild discomfort and bruising in their groins that may last for several days.  Most patients are fully recovered by the end of the first week.  We ask patients to avoid any heavy lifting or strenuous activity for the first two weeks following their ablation.