What you can expect
The most common method of atrial fibrillation ablation is catheter ablation. Other types are AV node ablation and the maze procedure, which is done during open-heart surgery.
During catheter ablation for atrial fibrillation
Catheter ablation for atrial fibrillation is performed in a hospital. Before your procedure, a specialist will insert an intravenous line into your forearm or hand, and you'll be given a sedative to help you relax. In some situations, a general anesthetica may be used instead to place you in a sleep-like state.
After your sedative takes effect, your doctor or another specialist will numb a small area near a vein on your groin, neck or shoulder. Your doctor will insert a needle into the vein and place a tube (sheath) through the needle.
Your doctor will thread catheters through the sheath and guide them to several places within your heart. Your doctor may inject dye into the catheter, which helps him or her see your blood vessels and heart using X-ray imaging. The catheters have electrodes at the tips that can be used to send electrical impulses to your heart and record your heart's electrical activity. This process of using imaging and other tests to determine what's causing your arrhythmia is called an electrophysiology (EP) study.
Next your doctor uses the catheter tips to apply heat (radiofrequency ablation) or cold (cryoablation) to the target area to destroy tissue and cause scarring.
The procedure usually takes three to six hours. Complicated procedures may take longer.
During the procedure it's possible you'll feel some minor discomfort when the dye is injected in your catheter or when energy is run through the catheter tips. If you experience any type of severe pain or shortness of breath, let your doctor know.
After catheter ablation for atrial fibrillation
Following your procedure, you'll be moved to a recovery area to rest quietly for four to six hours to prevent bleeding at your catheter site. Your heartbeat and blood pressure will be monitored continuously to check for complications.
Depending on your condition, you may be able to go home the same day as your procedure. If you go home the same day, plan to have someone drive you.
You may feel a little sore after your procedure, but the soreness shouldn't last more than a week. You'll usually be able to return to your normal activities within a few days after undergoing cardiac catheter ablation.