What to expect Catheter Ablation for Atrial Fibrillation

Catheter Ablation

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


On the day of the procedure, your doctor may request some routine tests such as an ECG, X-rays, blood tests, and transesophageal echocardiogram if they were not completed 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.


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 or sedated for the procedure.

Watch an explanation of how a catheter ablation procedure works.

A local anesthetic will be applied to the site where the ablation catheter will be inserted. In most cases, the major blood vessel in your groin is used for catheter insertion (catheterization). 

Your EP will carefully maneuver the catheter through the blood vessel to the left atrium of your heart. The catheter in the left atrium is used to map the abnormal electrical pathways in the heart tissue, using a mapping catheter. When the targeted area is located, the tip of the catheter delivers cryo (cold) or radiofrequency (heat) energy to create lesions or scars. These lesions stop abnormal electrical signals causing the atrial fibrillation. Ninety percent of abnormal electrical signals causing atrial fibrillation come from your pulmonary veins (four veins that connect your lungs and heart).

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

After the Procedure: RECOVERY

While activities will need to be limited, most patients return to their normal routine within a few days. Minor soreness in the chest or bruising at the insertion site is normal. Some patients may experience a slight cough following the procedure. 

Let your physician know if you experience any symptoms that cause discomfort. 

Expect follow-up visits with your doctor to monitor your healing and heart rhythms.

What do physicians have to say?

Watch the following video to learn more about the side effects and possible areas of discomfort after a cryoablation procedure.

Dr. Robert Kowal is the CRHF Chief Medical Officer at Medtronic.

Watch this video segment to learn more about what to expect during the healing process.

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.