What Is Cardiac Ablation?

This is a procedure to treat atrial fibrillation (AFib), a type of irregular heartbeat. Your doctor may try ablation if medications and resetting your heartbeat -- you may hear that called cardioversion -- don’t work.

Why Treat AFib?

You could have symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations, which can make it feel like your heart is racing or like you have a flip-flopping in your chest.

If untreated, AFib can raise your chance of getting blood clots, heart failure, or stroke. These could be life-threatening.

Your doctor will consider your risk factors before he suggests a treatment. If you have no symptoms, or they’re mild, he may watch and wait. But many people with AFib are prescribed warfarin or another blood thinner that can protect you from strokes.

Ablation may be right for you if:

• Your AFib symptoms are more severe and make it hard to do your daily tasks

• Drugs or cardioversion don’t work, or you can’t take the drugs because of side effects

• You have blood clots or have had a stroke

What Are the Types of Ablation?

Catheter ablation , also called radiofrequency or pulmonary vein ablation, isn’t surgery, and it’s the least invasive option. Your doctor puts a thin, flexible tube into a blood vessel in your leg or neck. Then, it's guided to your heart.

Your doctor uses heat, cold, or radio energy to scar some tissue inside your heart, where the irregular beats are triggered. The treated tissue helps get your heartbeat regular again.

Surgical ablation involves cutting into your chest. Sometimes it’s called the maze procedure. Some people with AFib can have keyhole surgery or surgery that uses a robot. These let your doctor make several small incisions rather the bigger ones done in open-heart surgery. Sometimes these options are called modified maze procedures.

Your doctor will put a video camera or tiny robot into your chest. It’ll guide the creation of scar tissue that may help keep your heartbeat at the right pace. A more invasive maze procedure is done during open heart surgery.

People usually have surgical ablation if they are already having valve or bypass surgery for heart disease.


Which Type of Ablation Is Right for Me?

You and your doctor will talk about your treatment options for AFib, including ablation. Your plan will depend on:

  • The cause of your AFib
  • Whether you have symptoms
  • Your chance of having heart disease

Different types of ablation zap different parts of your heart. You may be able to go home the same day, or you may need to stay one night or more in the hospital.

Drugs can treat the AFib and keep your heart at a regular rhythm, but they may cause side effects or stop working. Ablation might be the next option. It can give you a treatment that lasts longer or cures you.

Nonsurgical and minimally invasive ablation are successful for many people with AFib. If the first procedure is not successful, often a second will be. With those options, you’ll be able to recover and get back to your normal routine quickly.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on September 02, 2016



American Heart Association: “What is Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF)?” “Non-surgical Procedures for Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF),” “Treatment Guidelines of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF),” “Why Atrial Fibrillation (AF or AFib) Matters.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Surgical Procedures for Atrial Fibrillation (MAZE).”

Heart Rhythm Society: “Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib).”

University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine: “MAZE Procedure for Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation.”

Verma, A. Circulation, published August 2005.

Mayo Clinic: “Atrial Fibrillation: Symptoms”

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