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The Procedure: What to Expect – Catheter Ablation

Atrial Fibrillation

Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure. If your doctor has advised you that catheter ablation may be the best treatment for your atrial fibrillation, you may have some questions about what to expect before, during and after the catheter ablation procedure.

How do I prepare for catheter ablation?

Your doctor may request some routine tests such as an ECG, X-rays, blood tests, and transesophageal echocardiogram on the day of your procedure if you do not have them done in advance. In most cases, you will be asked to not eat or drink anything after midnight prior to your procedure.

Your doctor will advise you about continuing or stopping any medications you are taking. Be sure to notify your doctor if you have any health changes before your procedure.

What should I expect during catheter ablation?

Catheter ablation is performed by an electrophysiologist (EP), a heart doctor who specializes in heart rhythms. During the procedure, you’ll receive fluids and any necessary medication through an intravenous (IV) line inserted in your arm. You may either be anesthetized (“put to sleep”) or sedated for the procedure.

A local anesthetic will be applied to the site where the ablation catheters will be inserted. In most cases, the major blood vessel in your groin is used for catheterization. Blood vessels in your arm, chest, or neck area may also be used for catheterization.

Your electrophysiologist will carefully maneuver the catheter(s) through the blood vessel to your left atrium. The catheter in the left atrium is used to map the abnormal electrical pathways in the heart tissue. When the targeted area is located, the distal end of the catheter delivers either RF or cryo energy to the isolate the abnormal electrical pathway that is causing the atrial fibrillation.

When the procedure is completed, the catheters are removed and pressure is applied to the catheter insertion site to prevent bleeding.

What is the recovery like?

In most cases you will stay overnight for observation. You may feel some minor soreness in your chest, or bruising or soreness at the insertion site. When you return home, you may have to limit your activity for a couple of days but most patients return to their normal routines quickly. Your doctor will talk to you about any activities you may have to avoid while you are healing.

How will the procedure affect my lifestyle?

After a successful procedure, most people improve their quality of live and can return to a normal, active lifestyle. In some cases, individuals need a repeat procedure to achieve full success.

Where can I find more information?

There are many resources available for you about living with atrial fibrillation:

Keep in Mind

Although many patients benefit from catheter ablation, results may vary. As with any medical procedure, there are benefits and risks. Your doctor can help you decide if catheter ablation is right for you.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.