Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive form of ablation used to treat supraventricular tachycardia and other forms of arrhythmia in cases where medication has not been effective. Heart rhythm is controlled by naturally occurring electrical impulses that travel specific paths within the heart’s atria (top two chambers) or in the area just above the ventricles (lower two chambers). When these impulses become disorganized and stray from these pathways, heart rate becomes irregular, rapid or slow, a family of conditions called arrhythmia.
Ablation is a technique used to reroute electrical impulses back to their intended paths by destroying the tissue that made up the misdirected pathways. Once the destroyed tissue heals, its scar tissue forms a lesion that the electrical impulses cannot travel through, so they are detoured to their intended paths.
While there are other types of ablation therapy, catheter ablation offers a quicker recovery time as it is a less invasive procedure. It is performed through a thin, flexible tube that is inserted in an artery near the groin and threaded up into the heart. There are three variations of catheter ablation therapy used to treat arrhythmia.
- Cryoablation uses a catheter with a cooling tip attached. This tip reaches sub-zero temperatures and freezes targeted cells and tissue on contact. This alters the cells, making them unable to conduct the heart’s electrical charges.
- Radiofrequency (RF) ablation
uses real-time fluoroscopy (x-rays) to visualize the route of the catheter and navigate it to specific cells. Once in place, a radiofrequency wave is emitted directly toward the desired tissue, destroying the disruptive cells. This wave is relatively painless.
- Robotic ablation (stereotaxis) uses computerized, magnetic technology to guide and navigate the equipment to the heart, allowing for precise placement. Once in place, this robotic equipment destroys damaged or affected tissue to restore normal valve function. Because the robotic catheter is very flexible and soft, there is a greater chance that the heart wall will not be damaged during the procedure.