AFib Catheter Ablation: How Does it Work & Who Should Have it?

AFib catheter ablation procedures can help restore normal heart rhythm.

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a heart condition affecting over 2 million Americans. As far as arrhythmias go, AFib is not only quite common, it can also pose some serious health threats. The irregular, quivering heartbeat associated with AFib can be so aggressive at times that patients may feel as though their hearts could leap from their chests. It can be a frightening sensation, but the potential consequences are scarier still. Only 33 percent of AFib patients believe the condition is serious. But, it is known to increase one’s risk of blood clots, stroke, and heart failure. Learn more about this cardiovascular condition, and find out why AFib catheter ablation can be the right choice for certain AFib patients with Cardiovascular Institute of the South

What Happens During AFib?

During AFib, or atrial fibrillation, the heart’s upper chambers (atria) beat out of sync with the lower chambers (ventricles). Erratic electrical signals cause the muscles in the heart’s atria to contract irregularly. In turn, these irregular contractions of the atria result in an arrhythmic heartbeat.

AFib episodes may unexpectedly arise and subside after some time. But, the heart's rhythm might not self-correct. As AFib episodes progress, patients feel symptoms like heart palpitations, weakness, and shortness of breath. In extreme cases, patients may also experience chest pain or fainting. Medications, cardioversion, pacemakers, and AFib catheter ablation are common AFib treatments. These medical interventions are used to manage AFib and regulate a normal heart rhythm.

How Does Catheter Ablation Treat AFib?

Medication to help control the heart rhythm is a typical first line of defense in AFib treatment. However, some patients require more aggressive treatment based on the severity of their condition, its persistence, and their symptoms. For these patients, an AFib catheter ablation procedure is a common treatment method.

An AFib catheter ablation is a common choice when AFib is the result of “hot spots.” A hot spot describes cells that erratically fire electrical signals within the atria. During the ablation, a catheter (long, thin tube) is guided to the heart via blood vessels in the groin. This catheter tip is equipped with electrodes that can deliver radiofrequency energy, extreme heat, or extreme cold to the tissue. It is targeted at the tissue from which the erratic signals are developing. The result is the destruction of problematic cells and the restoration of normal heartbeat rhythm.

Who is a Candidate for AFib Ablation?

Not all patients with AFib will be ideally suited for catheter ablation. Before recommending the procedure, an electrophysiologist will take certain health factors into account. Examples of these factors may include: 

  • Whether the AFib condition is unresponsive to medication
  • Whether the patient cannot tolerate medication
  • Whether the patient has suffered heart failure
  • Whether the patient has reduced ejection fraction (low EF)

Additionally, patients who receive catheter ablation will generally be under 80 years of age and have a normal-sized left atrium.

AFib Catheter Ablation Preparation

AFib Catheter ablation is a safe and effective treatment, but proper patient preparation is required to ensure optimal outcomes. Here are some key steps patients can take to prepare for the procedure.

Consult With Your Doctor

Before undergoing catheter ablation, it's important to consult with your doctor to determine whether you are a good candidate for the procedure. Your doctor will consider factors such as your age, overall health, and medical history to determine whether catheter ablation is the right treatment option for you.

Stop Taking Certain Medications If Instructed by Your Doctor

Some medications, such as blood thinners, may need to be stopped before the procedure to reduce the risk of excessive bleeding. Your doctor should provide specific instructions regarding which medications to stop and when to stop taking them.

Fast Before the Procedure

In most cases, patients will need to fast for several hours before the procedure. This means no food or drink, including water, for a certain period of time before the procedure. Your doctor will provide specific instructions regarding how long you should fast before the procedure.

Arrange Transportation

Catheter ablation is typically done under sedation or anesthesia, which means you will not be able to drive yourself home after the procedure. Make sure to arrange for transportation beforehand so that you can get home safely.

These steps are important to ensure that patients are properly prepared for an AFib catheter ablation procedure. Preparation is essential for minimizing your risks and increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome. If you have any questions or concerns about catheter ablation or the preparation process, don't hesitate to speak with your doctor to find out more.

AFib Ablation in Louisiana

Cardiovascular Institute of the South is home to several highly qualified electrophysiologists. These specialists focus exclusively on electrical signals and arrhythmias of the heart, including AFib. If you have been diagnosed with the condition or fear you may have it, contact us to request an appointment. Find peace of mind and world-class medical expertise and treatments with Cardiovascular Institute of the South.

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CIS Staff

Written by CIS Staff