Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure to treat atrial fibrillation. It can relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.
During an ablation, the doctor destroys tiny areas in the heart that are firing off abnormal electrical impulses and causing atrial fibrillation.
You will be given medicine to help you relax. A local anesthetic will numb the site where the catheter is inserted. Sometimes, general anesthesia is used. The procedure is done in a hospital where you can be watched carefully.
Thin, flexible wires called catheters are inserted into a vein, typically in the groin or neck, and threaded up into the heart. There is an electrode at the tip of the wires. The electrode sends out radio waves that create heat. This heat destroys the heart tissue that causes atrial fibrillation or the heart tissue that keeps it happening. Another option is to use freezing cold to destroy the heart tissue.
Sometimes, abnormal impulses come from inside a pulmonary vein and cause atrial fibrillation. (The pulmonary veins bring blood back from the lungs to the heart.) Catheter ablation in a pulmonary vein can block these impulses and keep atrial fibrillation from happening.
View a slideshow of catheter ablation to see how the heart's electrical system works, how atrial fibrillation happens, and how ablation is done.
Atrial Fibrillation: Should I Have Catheter Ablation?
AV node ablation
AV node ablation is a slightly different type of ablation procedure for atrial fibrillation. AV node ablation can control symptoms of atrial fibrillation in some people. It might be right for you if medicine has not worked, catheter ablation did not stop your atrial fibrillation, or you cannot have catheter ablation. With AV node ablation, the entire atrioventricular (AV) node is destroyed. After the AV node is destroyed, it can no longer send impulses to the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). This controls atrial fibrillation symptoms.
After AV node ablation, a permanent pacemaker is needed to regulate your heart rhythm. Nodal ablation can control your heart rate and reduce your symptoms, but it does not prevent or cure atrial fibrillation. AV node ablation helps about 9 out of 10 people.1 The procedure has a low risk of serious problems.2
View a slideshow of AV node ablation to see how the heart's electrical system works, how atrial fibrillation happens, and how AV node ablation is performed.