What is it?
Radiofrequency ablation is a nonsurgical procedure used to treat some types of irregular heart rhythms. A radiofrequency (RF) ablation is very similar to an Electrophysiology (EP) Study. The EP Study and RF ablation are frequently performed one after the other.
How does it work?
The EP Study helps identify the specific type and location of the abnormal heart rhythm. Then, in a process called mapping, a catheter (small, flexible tube) is manipulated until it locates the abnormal pathway that is causing the irregular heart rhythm. At this point, an ablation is performed. A special catheter will be used to direct radiofrequency energy that causes the tissue at the tip of the catheter to heat up, permanently damaging (ablating) that small area of tissue. When the abnormal pathway is destroyed, the heart’s electrical impulses can only travel through the normal conduction pathways and the abnormal heart rhythm is eliminated. Your RF ablation should restore your heartbeat to the regular rhythms necessary to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout your body.
What should I expect?
Just before your RF ablation, an intravenous (IV) will be inserted into your arm to administer any medication. Depending on what type of arrhythmia you have, you will have either general anesthesia and spend the night, or light sedation and go home the same day.
The catheters used for the ablation will be inserted through the veins in your groin. You won’t feel the catheters moving through the blood vessels and into your heart. These catheters will be positioned in your heart using a special type of x-ray called fluoroscopy (live-action picture).
Controlled impulses will then be delivered through the catheters to induce the suspected abnormal heart rhythm. Your electrophysiologist may decide to use sophisticated computer aided 3 Dimensional mapping system to identify the arrhythmia circuit and its source. Once the arrhythmia source is identified and located, the RF energy will be delivered for 60 to 90 seconds at a time through one of the catheters to the abnormal pathway. When it appears the abnormal pathway has been ablated, the physician will test to be certain your abnormal heart rhythm can no longer be triggered.
Some people feel a mild, burning sensation in the chest during the RF energy delivery. However, it’s usually described as only mildly uncomfortable.