Catheter Ablation for the Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)
What is AFib Ablation?
Catheter ablation for AFib is a minimally invasive procedure during which an electrophysiologist (EP) delivers energy, either cold (cryoablation) or heat (radiofrequency ablation), through long, narrow tubes (catheters) to certain areas of your heart, to eliminate the heart tissues that are responsible for the faulty electrical signals that cause AFib.
The primary source of these abnormal signals can be found where the pulmonary veins, which bring oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to the heart, connect to its left upper chamber (left atrium).
During the ablation, your doctor will burn or freeze around these veins to electrically isolate them from the left atrium. After successful ablation, although the faulty signals will continue to run in the pulmonary veins, they cannot travel to the left atrium and, therefore, cannot start AFib.
This is why AFib ablation is also known as pulmonary vein isolation (PVI). In some patients, the EP may identify other sources of AFib, beyond the pulmonary veins, and may also perform ablation in those areas.
Antiarrhythmic medicatons can be used to treat AFib but are often not able to end the arrhythmia on their own. Moreover, these medications can cause serious side effects. Recent studies published in the most prestigious medical journals have shown that patients who receive catheter ablation have more relief from their symptoms and greater long-term improvement in their quality of life compared to those who receive only antiarrhythmic medications.
Ablation also reduces the risk for hospitalization and recurrence of atrial fibrillation compared to medications.
Watch Video - Catheter Ablation for Arrhythmias and Atrial Fibrillation
Cardiac Electrophysiologist in Houston & Sugar Land, TX
Ask Dr. Alireza Nazeri how catheter ablation may help to control your atrial fibrillation. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Nazeri in Houston, Texas, call (713) 790-9125.
Preparing for AFib Ablation
Your doctor will lay out the options for treating your AFib, which may include catheter ablation. He or she will explain the details, benefits, and expected results of the procedure, as well as the potential risks and complications of ablation.
Once you understand the procedure and agree to proceed with this therapy, your doctor will provide you with detailed instructions on how to prepare for the procedure. Ask any questions you may have and follow your doctor's instructions correctly.
During the Ablation Procedure
AFib ablation is performed in the electrophysiology (EP) lab or catheterization (cath) lab in the hospital. Before the procedure begins, an anesthesiologist will prepare you and place you in a sleep-like state.
The electrophysiologist (EP) will start the procedure by inserting a needle into a vein in your groin area and subsequently replacing it with a small tube (sheath).
The doctor will then thread the catheters through the sheath and guide them to your heart with the help of X-ray imaging or ultrasound. The catheters will then be moved from the right atrium to the left atrium, where the pulmonary veins enter the heart.
The electrodes located at the tip of the catheters can send electrical impulses to your heart, record the electrical signals, and create three-dimensional images of the heart.
After identifying the target areas, your doctor will use an ablation catheter to deliver heat (radiofrequency ablation) or cold energy (cryoablation) to those areas and create a scar or destroy the tissues where AFib begins. In most cases, each of the four pulmonary veins will be isolated.
In some cases, the EP may perform additional ablation on other areas of the upper chambers of your heart. Your doctor will do a final test to confirm that your pulmonary veins have been electrically isolated from the left atrium. Isolation stops the faulty signals from traveling to this heart chamber and causing AFib.
After the physician removes the catheters from your body, you will be transferred to the recovery room.
After Ablation for Afib
After the procedure, the medical staff will move you to the recovery area, where they will continue to monitor your blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen level.
You will spend the night in the hospital and will go home the day after the procedure.
Before you leave the hospital, you will receive instructions about your self-care after the procedure, medications you may need to take, and when to have a follow-up visit with your doctor. Review the instructions carefully and ask questions if something is not clear or you need further information.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor about the AFib Ablation Procedure
- Why do I need AFib ablation?
- What are the advantages of AFib ablation over medications?
- How does AFib ablation work?
- What are the risks associated with this procedure?
- Does ablation cure AFib?
- What can I do to increase the odds of having a successful AFib ablation?
- What type of energy source (heat or cold) will you use for the ablation and which one works better?
- Do I have to take blood thinners after the procedure?
- What medications can I stop after AFib ablation?
- How should I prepare for the procedure?
- How long is the recovery?
- What symptoms and signs do I need to watch out for after the procedure, and what should I do if I experience them?
- How long after the procedure can I travel?
- Can I exercise or drive after the procedure?
- How do you monitor my AFib after the ablation?
- How often should I see you after the procedure?