Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that addresses cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). During a normal heartbeat, electrical signals travel along pathways to the chambers of your heart to instruct the upper and lower chambers to contract and relax in proper sequence. When there’s a disruption in this pathway—often caused by abnormal cells that create disorganized electrical signals—a cardiac arrhythmia can occur. An arrhythmia is an irregular or rapid heartbeat that means your heart isn’t pumping blood effectively. Tampa General Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute offers the catheter ablation procedure from some of the most experienced and skilled electrophysiologists and cardiologists in the nation. We are able to perform the most complex ablative procedures for patients whose prior treatments from other institutions have failed. Catheter ablation is often recommended for arrhythmias that cannot be controlled by medication or are affecting the heart’s upper chambers (the atria).
Catheter ablation is used to treat many types of cardiac arrhythmias, including:
- Atrial fibrillation (AFib)
- Atrial flutter
- Ventricular tachycardia (VT)
- Superventricular tachycardia (SVT)
This procedure takes place in an electrophysiology lab at TGH where our specialists can closely monitor our patients during the procedure. During a catheter ablation, the physician will:
- Insert a catheter (a long, thin tube) into a blood vessel near the groin and guide it to the heart
- Use electrodes located at the end of the catheter to stimulate the heart and find the area of the heart muscle that is causing the abnormal rhythm
- Use radiofrequency heat energy, delivered through the catheter, to destroy the problem area
When the radiofrequency energy destroys the area of the heart muscle causing the electrical disruption, it disconnects the abnormal electrical signals so that they can no longer be sent to the heart.
What to Expect
After the procedure, you may need to lie in bed for up to six hours to prevent any bleeding. During this time, you will be placed on a telemetry monitor so that your heart can be closely observed by our cardiac care nurses. It’s normal to experience skipped or irregular heartbeats after the procedure, which should resolve once you have recovered.
You will likely experience chest discomfort and bruising after the catheter ablation. The incision site will be bandaged—not stitched—and if you notice any redness, swelling or drainage in this area, let a nurse know right away.
While some patients can go home the same day as the procedure, others may need to stay in the hospital for a night or two. You’ll have regular follow-up appointments with your cardiologist after the catheter ablation, and he or she will clear you for regular activities once you have fully recovered.
Catheter ablations are typically very effective for heart arrhythmias—with a success rate over 90%. However, it’s not unusual to need another catheter ablation or be on medication to help control your heartbeat long-term.