Catheter ablation is a procedure which has been developed over the past few years to treat, and in many cases, cure, problems with the conducting system of the heart. Strictly speaking it is called "radiofrequency ablation therapy".
It is still evolving, and current success rates suggest that this technique will become more and more effective with time.
It is a relatively minor procedure, usually done under local anaesthetic. There are no cuts to the chest, but two tiny cuts are made in each groin. A soft, flexible tube, called a catheter, is passed through these two tiny cuts, and threaded up to the heart through the blood vessels leading to the heart.
The tip of the catheter has a tiny apparatus in it, which delivers an alternating current at high frequency. The tip is directed at the part of the heart’s conducting system that is abnormal and causing the arrhythmia. When the current is delivered, it fuses (coagulates) the tissues in a very precise area and prevents the abnormal rhythm from continuing to arise.
The technique is similar to laser, but far more precise and controllable and so more effective.
Around 90% of arrhythmias respond to catheter-ablation techniques, allowing people to remain in sinus rhythm without the need for medication.
Once you have had catheter ablation, you will be discharged from hospital within 24 hours. If you have a desk job, you can return to work the next day. If you do work that involves physical exercise, you will remain off work for around two days to allow the tiny cuts in the groin to heal.
- (Health24, updated June 2008)