What to Expect From Cardiac Ablation for AFib

Doctors use two basic types of ablation to treat atrial fibrillation (AFib). Catheter ablation happens through a thin, flexible tube that goes into a blood vessel in your leg or neck. Surgical ablation involves cutting into your chest. Your recovery and the results you can expect will depend on which procedure you have.

Often, the treatment will ease your symptoms and return your heartbeat to normal. It may also lower your chances of a stroke and other heart problems.

Getting Ready

You may need to stop taking some medications in the days before your procedure, including blood thinners and medicines for your heart rate and rhythm. The night before, you should stop eating and drinking after midnight and wash with antibacterial soap.

Your doctor will give you specific instructions for the kind of ablation you're having.

Recovery

For most procedures, you'll rest in a recovery room for a few hours while a nurse closely watches your heart rate and blood pressure. You need to lie flat and still to prevent bleeding from where your skin was cut.

You may go home the same day as your catheter ablation, or spend a night in the hospital. If you go home, plan to have someone drive you. You may feel a little sore and tired at first, but you'll be back to normal soon.

For surgical ablation called mini-maze, you're in the hospital just a couple of days and will need to take it easy for a few weeks.

Open-heart maze is major surgery. You'll spend a day or two in intensive care, and you may be in the hospital up to a week. At first, you'll feel very tired and have some chest pain. You can probably go back to work in about 3 months, but it may take 6 months to get back to normal.

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Risks and Complications

Catheter ablation is considered safe. But it can cause:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots that go to your leg, heart, or brain
  • Damage to your heart or blood vessels

During a mini-maze treatment, you could also get a collapsed lung or inflamed heart tissue.

An open-heart maze procedure is more complicated, so there are more things that may happen. You run the risk of:

Because it's surgery, there is a slim chance you might die from having a maze procedure.

Results

Catheter ablation may not cure your AFib, but it will often relieve your symptoms. If you've had AFib a long time, you'll likely need a repeat treatment to keep your heartbeat normal. You may also need medicine to control your heart rhythm for a few months following the procedure.

Most people who have the maze procedure get long-term relief from their symptoms. And many don't need to take heart rhythm medicine afterward.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on August 7, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

European Heart Journal: "Catheter ablation for atrial fibrillation is associated with lower incidence of stroke and death: data from Swedish Health Registries."

Mayo Clinic: "Cardiac ablation: How you prepare."

UCSF Cardiology: "Ablation Procedure."

USC Cardiothoracic Surgery: "A Patient's Guide to Heart Surgery."

Cedars-Sinai: "Preparing for Maze Surgery."

American Heart Association: "Ablation for Arrhythmias."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Catheter Ablation."

Medtronic: "The Procedure: What to Expect – Catheter Ablation: Atrial Fibrillation."

Chicago Heart Surgery: "Mini-Maze Surgery for Atrial Fibrillation."

StopAfib.org: "Mini Maze Procedure Risks."

OpenHeart (BMJ): "Long-term outcomes after ablation of persistent atrial fibrillation: An observational study over 6 years."

University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center: "Catheter Ablation."

Cleveland Clinic: "Heart Surgery for Atrial Fibrillation (MAZE)."

Peter J. Wells, MD; cardiologist, Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital, Dallas.

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