Learning About Catheter Ablation for Heart Rhythm Problems

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Catheter ablation inside the heart

What is catheter ablation?

Catheter ablation is a procedure that treats heart rhythm problems. These problems include atrial fibrillation, supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), atrial flutter, and ventricular tachycardia.

Your heart should have a strong, steady beat. That beat is controlled by the heart's electrical system. Sometimes that system misfires. This causes a heartbeat that is too fast and isn't steady.

Catheter ablation is a way to get into your heart and fix the problem. Ablation is not surgery.

How is catheter ablation done?

Your doctor inserts thin tubes called catheters into a blood vessel in your groin, arm, or neck. Then your doctor feeds them into the heart. Wires in the catheters help the doctor find the problem areas. Then the doctor uses the wires to send energy to destroy the tiny areas of heart tissue that are causing the problems.

It may seem like a bad idea to destroy parts of your heart on purpose. But the areas that are destroyed are very tiny. They should not affect your heart's ability to do its job.

You may be awake during the procedure. Or you may be asleep. The doctor will give you medicines to help you feel relaxed and to numb the areas where the catheters go in.

What can you expect after catheter ablation?

You may stay overnight in the hospital.

You can do light activities at home. Don't do anything strenuous until your doctor says it is okay. This may be for several days.

You may have swelling, bruising, or a small lump around the site where the catheters went into your body. These should go away in 3 to 4 weeks.

You may have to take some medicines for a while.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.