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

It uses either heat (radiofrequency ablation) or freezing (cryoablation) on the area of your heart that’s causing the abnormal heart rhythm (or arrhythmia). This treatment creates scar tissue which:

  • breaks abnormal circuits in the heart
  • destroys areas of the heart muscle which are triggering arrhythmias. 

An ablation is started 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 abnormal heart rhythm.

Will ablation work straight away?

An ablation doesn’t usually work immediately and you may have some ongoing symptoms, such as palpitations, after the procedure. After around 8 – 10 weeks it’ll be clear whether it’s worked or not.

If it’s a success, your doctor will discuss stopping some of your medication.

If the ablation doesn’t work first time, you may need another ablation procedure or to explore alternative treatments. 

What should I expect during an ablation?

Watch our video on catheter 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 or freezing 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.

Will I need a pacemaker fitted?

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

When the 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’re likely to 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 they think 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.

Want to know more?

Order or download our publications:

Heart rhythms booklet

Heart rhythms