Catheter ablation for atrial fibrillation

If you doctor has diagnosed you with atrial fibrillation, they may recommended that you undergo a catheter ablation procedure. In certain patients, catheter ablation is an effective treatment for atrial fibrillation. This procedure is not appropriate for everyone and your doctor will have a detailed discussion with you at your clinic appointment. The success of the procedure  depends on a number of factors but often a second procedure is needed. 

How it works

Atrial Fibrillation is a complex disease. For the majority of patients the atrial fibrillation is ‘driven’ from the left atrium. Our job is to ‘isolate’ or circle the veins preventing turbulence of normal electrical wavefronts that flow across this chamber. We do this by using radiofrequency (RF) energy to heat the tissue and scar the muscle (ablation) preventing electrical signals to cross. This does not damage the function of the chamber that acts as a reservoir for the heart. In some patients ‘isolating’ the veins is not enough and other areas are targeted. Please ask your specialist about this. 

What to expect

  • You will begin to take blood thinners such as Warfarin (Coumadin) or Dabigatran (Pradax) for at least one month before the procedure. This reduces the risk of blood clots in you heart. If you cannot take blood thinners you must tell your specialist immediately.
  • A CT scan will be ordered so your health-care team can look at the structure of your heart.
  • transesophageal echocardiogram will be performed the day before your procedure to ensure there are no blood clots in your heart before we perform the ablation. 
  • On the day of the exam, you will be directed to the Admitting Department before moving to the Cardiac Sciences Unit. A nurse will greet you and identify you as the correct person to undergo the procedure. The procedure will be performed in the electrophysiology laboratory (EP lab).
  • The nurse may insert a urinary catheter and place an IV. You will meet the doctor and be asked to sign a consent form to confirm you would like the procedure to go ahead. At this time you can speak to your doctor any questions you have will be answered.
  • You will then be moved on a stretcher to the EP lab. The same nurse you met earlier will make sure you are comfortable throughout the procedure by using sedation drugs. There is no general anaesthetic for this procedure.
  •  The procedure will take four-to-six hours to complete. You will remain in hospital overnight to recover. 
  • The following morning you will be reviewed by your health-care team. They will talk to you about your medications before you are discharged from the hospital.