Ablation, also known as catheter ablation, is a treatment that aims to control or correct certain types of abnormally fast heart rhythms.

An abnormal heart rhythm is known as an arrhythmia.

An ablation is done using the same technique as an electrophysiology (EP) study and is often carried out at the same time. The EP study can discover if you have extra electrical pathways in your heart that could be causing your abnormally fast heart rhythm.

What should I expect during an ablation?

You'll be given a local anaesthetic and sedation to help ease any discomfort you may feel during the procedure. However, the process may take a few hours so it can still be an uncomfortable experience as you may need to lie flat and keep still.

  • First, thin, flexible tubes called catheters are placed into one of your veins or arteries, in your groin or wrist. The catheters are gently moved into the correct position in your heart.
  • If you haven’t already had an EP study, your cardiologist will do this to pinpoint the exact area of your heart where the problem is.
  • Radiofrequency energy is then used to destroy the affected area inside your heart that's causing the abnormal heart rhythm. This process will help block the abnormal electrical impulses in that part of your heart.

If the ablation is going to destroy the heart’s natural pacemaker – the AV node – you may be fitted with a pacemaker days or even weeks earlier. This is known as ‘ablate and pace’.

When your ablation is over, the catheters are removed. There might be a small amount of bleeding from the groin area when they are taken out. A nurse or doctor will press on the area for a short while to stop any bleeding. You should expect to see some bruising and to feel tender.

What happens after the treatment?

After the procedure, you'll need to stay lying flat on your back, rest for a few hours and may need to stay in hospital overnight. You’ll likely feel tired afterwards, but you should feel back to normal within a few days. Most people can start driving after a couple of days but your nurse or doctor will let you know either way.

Are there any risks to having an ablation?

An ablation does involve a very small amount of risk. Your doctor will explain any risks before you give your consent to have the procedure. Your doctor will only recommend that you have this procedure if he or she thinks the benefits outweigh the risks.

Ablation can sometimes cause a little bleeding where the catheter was inserted. Some bruising is expected but you may develop a small collection of blood under the skin – known as a haematoma. If the wound site becomes very red and swollen contact your GP.

There is a small risk of damage to the heart's normal electrical pathways. If this happens, you may need to be fitted with a pacemaker to stop your heart from beating too slowly.

If you have any questions about the procedure, you can call our Heart Helpline on 0300 330 3311 or speak with your doctor or nurse.

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Heart rhythms