Frequently Asked Questions: Catheter Ablation

I've heard a lot about catheter ablation — how do I know if this treatment is right for me?

Assessment by an electrophysiologist is the best way to be sure this is the most appropriate treatment for your particular condition. It is not typically the first line of treatment, but if you think you have atrial fibrillation it is an option to consider.

What is catheter ablation, exactly?

Catheter ablation is a minimally-invasive technique intended to cure atrial fibrillation without major surgery. Using a specially designed catheter that is threaded through the blood vessels and into the left atrium of the heart, radio frequency energy is applied to the heart muscle to cauterize the “short circuits” in the heart's electrical system that are generating the atrial fibrillation.

What is the process for having this procedure?

First, you will be scheduled for a visit to our clinic, where you will receive educational information. The nurse will provide you with her contact information for any questions you may have after your clinic visit. The nurse will also work with you to prepare for the procedure with the appropriate medical instructions — including which medications to stop or start prior to the procedure. The day of the procedure, you will go into the prep area, sign a consent form, and the doctor and nurse will answer any additional questions you may have. After that, you will be given a gown to wear and then wheeled into the procedure room.

How long does a catheter ablation take?

The entire ablation procedure takes 3-4 hours to perform, including the time needed to prepare for the procedure and to remove the catheters from the body.

Will I be awake? Will I feel pain?

You will be made as comfortable as possible, but you will not be under general anesthesia. You will be in what is considered "twilight sleep" and you will be dozing off and on. You probably won't remember much from the procedure.

How long will I be at the hospital, and what limitations will I have?

The procedure always requires an overnight stay. You will not be able to drive for 24 hours. You should also not lift, push or pull anything more than 10 pounds for 3 days following the procedure.

How long will it take me to feel better?

Many patients experience occasional episodes of atrial fibrillation during the first three months after left atrial catheter ablation even though they continue to take medications. This is because it may take three months for the scars to develop and the procedure to take full effect. But for most patients, this post-procedure atrial fibrillation will eventually go away.

When will I know if the procedure worked? And when can I stop my medications?

After three months, you will have a follow-up appointment, and we will reassess how well you have responded to the treatment. At that point, we will make decisions about continuing your blood thinners and heart rhythm-controlling medicines.

Will I have to have more than one catheter ablation?

A certain percentage of patients will need to come back for a second procedure. However, that won't be determined until after the 3-month follow-up appointment to allow for sufficient healing time.

Make an Appointment

The Arrhythmia Program at the University of Michigan has been a national and international leader in the treatment of arrhythmias for more than 30 years. To schedule an appointment to discuss catheter ablation, a heart arrhythmia or any other cardiovascular condition or treatment, call us at 888-287-1082, or visit our Make a Cardiovascular Appointment page, where you may fill out a Patient Appointment Request Form and view other details about making an appointment.