Cardiac arrhythmias are the most common kinds of heart condition. Although they may often be controlled with medication and lifestyle changes, these measures are sometimes not enough, or they may have unpleasant side effects. For these patients, a safe and effective alternative may be cardiac ablation.
Causes of Arrhythmia
An arrhythmia occurs when the heart gets “off beat.” Usually this happens because tissue in the heart has begun to misfire the electrical signals that govern the heartbeat. Doctors can often identify the tissue that’s causing the short circuit, which they use to categorize the arrhythmia.
The types of arrhythmias that can be treated with cardiac ablation are those that affect the upper chambers, or atria, of the heart. Called supraventricular tachycardia (SVT’s), these include the following arrhythmias:
• Atrial fibrillation
• Atrial flutter
• Atrial tachycardia
• AV nodal reentrant tachycardia
• AV reentrant tachycardia
How Cardiac Ablation Works
Cardiac ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that destroys the heart tissue sending the faulty electrical signals to the heart muscles. It used to require that doctors open up the patient’s chest cavity, but now it can be performed through a relatively small incision. The doctor makes the incision in either the groin or neck, and inserts a catheter into the blood vessel.
Once the catheter has been inserted, the doctor uses a fluoroscope (a type of x-ray) to get real-time pictures of the catheter in the blood vessels. The doctor uses these images to guide the catheter through the vascular system and into the heart.
When the catheter is in place, it begins collecting data about the electrical output of the heart. An electrophysiologist monitors this information and uses it to determine exactly which heart tissue is causing the arrhythmia. The electrophysiologist may sedate the patient and stimulate the tissue, to try to recreate the arrhythmia. This procedure is safe, since the patient is so closely monitored. It also helps to ensure that the right heart tissue has been identified.
If the electrophysiologist can confirm the source of the electrical impulses, the next step is to destroy that tissue. The end of the catheter emits pulses of energy that kill that tissue. After the process is complete, the physician carefully removes the catheter. The patient must generally lie still for four to six hours after the procedure, to make sure that the incision begins to heal correctly.
Most patients don’t report pain during or after cardiac ablation, although they may experience some discomfort. Not all medical facilities have the facilities or experts on staff to perform cardiac ablation. If you have an arrhythmia, it’s important to research medical facilities in your area and select the best one.
At Central Florida Regional Hospital, we are fully equipped to maintain and protect your cardiac health. If you have questions about arrhythmias, cardiac ablation, or other cardiovascular conditions, please contact us. Visit us online or call Consult-a-Nurse® at 1-877-442-2362.