What is catheter ablation?

Catheter Ablation
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Catheter Ablation for Atrial Fibrillation: Before Your Procedure

Catheter ablation

Catheter ablation is a procedure that treats heart rhythm problems by destroying tiny areas of heart tissue that are causing the problems. Guided by X-rays, the doctor inserts thin tubes called catheters into a blood vessel, typically in the groin or neck, and feeds them into the heart.

Wires in the catheters help the doctor identify the type of rhythm problem and find the problem areas. Then the doctor uses the wires to send energy—heat or freezing cold—to those areas. The energy destroys, or ablates, the tissue. After it's destroyed, the tissue can no longer cause a problem. The areas of tissue are very tiny. And destroying them does not affect the heart's ability to do its job.

How can you care for your child after a catheter ablation?


  • Allow your child to slowly become more active. Have your child rest as much as needed. Make sure your child gets enough sleep at night.
  • Your child should not ride a bike, play running games or contact sports, or take part in gym class until your doctor says it is okay. It is okay for your child to walk and play with other children or play with toys.
  • Until the doctor says it is okay, your child should avoid lifting anything that would make your child strain. This may include heavy milk containers, a heavy backpack, or a medium-sized pet.
  • Your doctor will tell you when your child can go back to school or day care. Your child will probably have to spend at least 1 day at home.
  • For about 1 week, keep your child away from large crowds and people that you know have a cold or the flu. This lowers your child's chance of getting an infection.


  • Your child can eat a normal diet. If your child's stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
  • You may notice a change in your child's bowel habits right after the procedure. This is common. If your child has not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, call your doctor.


  • Your doctor will tell you if and when your child can restart any medicines. The doctor will also give you instructions about your child taking any new medicines.
  • Have your child take pain medicine exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it to your child as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask the doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If you think the pain medicine is making your child sick to the stomach:
    • Have your child take the medicine after meals (unless the doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your child's doctor for a different pain medicine.

Care of the catheter site

  • For the first day or for as long as your doctor recommends, keep a bandage over the spot where the catheter was put in.
  • You can put ice or a cold pack on the catheter site for 10 to 20 minutes at a time to help with soreness or swelling. Do this every few hours. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your child's skin.
  • Your child can shower 1 to 2 days after the procedure. Avoid soaking the catheter site in water until the area is healed. This includes keeping your child out of bathtubs and swimming pools.
  • Watch for bleeding from the site. A small amount of blood on the bandage can be normal.
  • If your child is bleeding, have your child lie down and press on the area for 15 minutes to try to make it stop. If the bleeding does not stop, call your child's doctor or seek immediate medical care.

How well does catheter ablation for a fast heart rate work?

Catheter ablation can eliminate atrioventricular nodal reciprocating tachycardia (AVNRT), a type of supraventricular tachycardia, in almost all cases.

This procedure can successfully eliminate WPW most of the time. There is a small risk of the arrhythmia recurring even after successful ablation of WPW. But a second session of catheter ablation is usually successful.

For ventricular tachycardia, catheter ablation might make the arrhythmia happen less often or stop the arrhythmia from happening again.

What can you expect as you recover from catheter ablation for heart rhythm problems?

You may stay overnight in the hospital.

You can do light activities at home. Don't do anything strenuous until your doctor says it is okay. This may be for several days.

You may have swelling, bruising, or a small lump around the site where the catheters went into your body. These should go away in 3 to 4 weeks.

You may have to take some medicines for a while.

After your child's catheter ablation: Overview

Your child had a catheter ablation to try to correct a problem with their heartbeat (heart rhythm).

Your child may have a bruise or a small lump where the catheters were put in. The area may feel sore for a few days after the procedure. Your child may need more sleep than usual for a few days.

At home, your child should not do any hard exercise until your doctor says it is okay. Your doctor will tell you when your child can go back to school or day care.

This procedure can be stressful for you and your child. Your child's recovery will depend on why the procedure was needed.

How is catheter ablation for heart rhythm problems done?

Your doctor inserts thin tubes called catheters into a blood vessel in your groin, arm, or neck. Then your doctor feeds them into the heart. Wires in the catheters help the doctor find the problem areas. Then the doctor uses the wires to send energy to destroy the tiny areas of heart tissue that are causing the problems.

It may seem like a bad idea to destroy parts of your heart on purpose. But the areas that are destroyed are very tiny. They should not affect your heart's ability to do its job.

You may be awake during the procedure. Or you may be asleep. The doctor will give you medicines to help you feel relaxed and to numb the areas where the catheters go in.

What happens on the day of your catheter ablation?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions about when to bathe or shower before your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Take off all jewelry and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. The anesthesia may make you sleep. Or it may just numb the area being worked on.
  • This procedure can take about 2 to 4 hours.
  • After the procedure, pressure may be applied to the areas where a catheter was put in a blood vessel. This will help prevent bleeding. A small device may also be used to close the blood vessel. You may have a bandage or a compression device on each catheter site.
  • Nurses will check your heart rate and blood pressure. The nurse will also check the catheter site for bleeding.
  • If the catheter was put in your groin, you will need to lie still and keep your leg straight for up to a few hours. The nurse may put a weighted bag on your leg to help you keep it still.
  • If the catheter was put in your neck or arm, you may be able to sit up right away. If it was in your arm, you will need to keep your arm still for at least 1 hour.
  • You may have a bruise or a small lump where the catheter was put in your blood vessel. This is normal and will go away.

Why is catheter ablation for a fast heart rate done?

Catheter ablation is used for people who have persistent or recurrent fast heart rates.

Ablation might be done to treat:

  • Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).
  • Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome.
  • Ventricular tachycardia.

Catheter ablation might be done to prevent episodes, relieve symptoms, or prevent future problems. You can decide with your doctor if the benefits of ablation outweigh the possible risks of the procedure.

How long does catheter ablation for heart rhythm problems take?

This procedure usually takes 2 to 6 hours. In rare cases, it can take longer.

How do you prepare for your child's catheter ablation?

Procedures can be stressful for both your child and you. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your child's procedure.

Preparing for the procedure

  • Talk to your child about the procedure. Tell your child that the procedure will help the heart work as it should. Hospitals know how to take care of children. The staff will do all they can to make it easier for your child.
  • Ask if a special tour of the surgery area and hospital is available. This may make your child feel less nervous about what happens.
  • Understand exactly what procedure is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell the doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies your child takes. Some may increase the risk of problems during the procedure. Your doctor will tell you if your child should stop taking any of them before the procedure and how soon to do it.
  • Plan for your child's recovery time. Your child may need more of your time right after the procedure, both for care and for comfort.

What are the risks of catheter ablation for a fast heart rate?

Problems during and after catheter ablation are not common. But the procedure has some risks. They include:

  • Bleeding.
  • Blood vessel problems from the catheter.
  • Cardiac tamponade.
  • Electrical system damage in the heart so a pacemaker is needed.
  • Heart attack.
  • Heart valve damage.
  • Pericarditis.
  • Stroke.
  • Death. This is rare, happening in fewer than 1 out of 100 people.

Some risks are more likely with certain types of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). Your doctor can help you know your risk. You will have to decide whether the possible benefits of ablation outweigh these risks. Your doctor can help you decide.

What is catheter ablation for heart rhythm problems?

Catheter ablation is a procedure that treats heart rhythm problems. These problems include atrial fibrillation, supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), atrial flutter, and ventricular tachycardia.

Your heart should have a strong, steady beat. That beat is controlled by the heart's electrical system. Sometimes that system misfires. This causes a heartbeat that is too fast and isn't steady.

Catheter ablation is a way to get into your heart and fix the problem. Ablation is not surgery.

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