FAQ: What Is Ablation?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 18, 2016
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What is ablation?

Expert Answers

Dr. Leslie Kernisan is the author of a popular blog and podcast at BetterHealthWhileAging.net. She is also a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics.

In cardiology, catheter ablation is a procedure used to treat certain kinds of arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms). To perform an ablation, physicians thread a special catheter through the blood vessels and into the heart. Doctors then use this catheter to apply radio-frequency energy to certain parts of the heart. The goal is to scar those parts of the heart that are triggering irregular rhythms. The catheter is then removed.

Catheter ablation is sometimes used to try to cure atrial fibrillation (also known as A-fib), especially if doctors have been unable to control A-fib symptoms with the usual medication and management techniques. However, the A-fib relapse rate after a single procedure may be 20 to 50 percent, and often a repeat ablation is required.

In other cases of A-fib, ablation is used to permanently block the connection between the heart's upper chambers (the atria) and the lower chambers (the ventricle). A pacemaker must then be used to keep the lower chambers beating regularly.

Ablation can also be used to treat other less common forms of arrhythmia, such as atrial flutter, certain other forms of atrial tachycardia, and certain types of ventricular tachycardia.

Like any invasive heart procedure, ablation involves a small risk of serious complications. For this reason, doctors usually try to treat arrhythmias with medication before attempting ablation.