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Heart Disease Health Center

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What Is Cardiac Ablation?

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What Is Cardiac Ablation?

This is a procedure to treat atrial fibrillation (AFib), a type of irregular heartbeat. It can help keep your heartbeat in a normal rhythm. Your doctor may try ablation if medications or resetting your heartbeat, called cardioversion, don’t work.

Why Treat AFib?

If untreated, AFib may raise your risk of having blood clots, heart failure, or stroke. These could be life-threatening.

Your doctor will consider your personal risk factors for these serious heart problems before he or she suggests a treatment for your AFib. If you have no symptoms or they are only mild, your doctor may watch and wait. But most people who have atrial fibrillation are prescribed the medication warfarin. This is a blood thinner that protect you from strokes.

Ablation may be right for you in these cases:

  • Your AFib symptoms are more severe and make it hard to do your daily tasks
  • Drugs or electrocardioversion do not work to treat your AFib, or you can’t take the drugs because of their side effects
  • You have blood clots or have had a stroke

What Are the Types of Ablation Used to Treat AFib?

Catheter ablation, also called radiofrequency or pulmonary vein ablation, is nonsurgical and is the least invasive. Your doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube in a blood vessel in your leg or neck. Then they guide it to your heart. Your doctor uses either heat, cold, or radio energy to scar tissue inside your heart, in the location where the irregular beats are triggered. The treated tissue helps to stop your irregular heartbeat.

Surgical ablation involves cutting into your chest. Sometimes this surgery is called the maze procedure. Most people with AFib can have keyhole surgery or robotically assisted surgery. These operations let your doctor make several small incisions rather than open-heart surgery. Sometimes this is called a modified-maze procedure. He will insert either a video camera or tiny robot to guide the surgical ablation of your heart to create scar tissue that helps keep your heartbeat at the right pace. A more invasive maze procedure is done during open-heart surgery. People usually have this type if they are already doing valve or bypass surgery for heart disease.

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