Catheter ablation, also known as cardiac ablation, is a minimally-invasive surgical procedure used to treat a range of heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias), which occur due to problems with the heart’s electrical signalling systems.
It involves carefully inserting a catheter (a thin flexible wire) into the heart via a vein, usually in the upper leg. The catheter is able to measure the heart’s electrical activity to help pinpoint where abnormal signals are coming from – and then deliver treatment (either by heating or freezing the targeted cells) in order to stop producing further signals. It’s generally very safe and effective and can sometimes cure the problem entirely. Heart ablation recovery time is usually short and straightforward too, although you will need a few days to rest.
Here, leading London cardiologist Dr Syed Ahsan, a London catheter ablation specialist, outlines four common heart rhythm disorders that are treated with cardiac ablation:
1. Atrial fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a very common form of arrhythmia that occurs due to problems with electrical signals in the upper left chamber (atrium) of the heart. It affects around 1.5 million people in the UK and is more common in over-65s. Characterised by an irregular heartbeat – which can occur in episodes or be constant – AF symptoms can range from mild to severe. These include dizziness, fatigue, palpitations and breathlessness. However, whether or not the symptoms are severe, managing and treating atrial fibrillation is very important, as unmanaged, AF is a major risk factor for suffering a stroke.
Medication and lifestyle measures are usually the first step in managing AF. But where these are unsuitable or not effective, other treatment including catheter ablation can be very helpful. As well as managing stroke risk, for people with severe atrial fibrillation that’s impacting their quality of life, AF ablation can drastically improve and sometimes completely eliminate symptoms. Find out more through our Atrial Fibrillation page and information videos.
2. Supraventricular tachycardia
Supraventricular tachycardia, also known as SVT, is the name given to a range of arrhythmias originating in the heart’s upper chambers, which cause a very fast abnormal heartbeat. This can be constant or intermittent, occurring in sudden bouts, causing symptoms such as palpitations, breathlessness and feeling faint or lightheaded.
Most of the time, SVT is not serious – but it can have an impact on quality of life and may need treatment. Medications may help in restoring a normal heart rhythm during a flare-up, but for more severe and persistent supraventricular tachycardia, catheter ablation is the most common treatment option. Find out more through our Supraventricular Tachycardia page and information videos.
3. Ventricular ectopics
In simple terms, ventricular ectopics are ‘extra’ heartbeats that originate in the lower chambers of the heart. Ectopic heartbeats are extremely common and don’t always require closer investigation or treatment (although some people with ventricular ectopics may need further tests to check for other co-existing or additional heart problems). Some people experience symptoms with ventricular ectopics too, such as feeling like your heart skipped a beat, or the sensation of a sudden ‘thump’ in your chest, along with dizziness and breathlessness. Often, these are triggered by things like too much caffeine or lack of sleep and aren’t anything to worry about.
However, if ventricular ectopics become problematic, medication along with lifestyle measures may help. If the ectopic beats are originating from a single site within the heart, catheter ablation can be an effective treatment option. Find out more through our Ventricular Ectopics page.
4. Atrial flutter
Atrial flutter, or AFL, is similar to atrial fibrillation, as it is also a common heart rhythm disorder that originates in the heart’s upper chambers. However, while atrial fibrillation is characterised by an irregular heartbeat, with atrial fibrillation the heart still beats regularly but beats very fast, and the upper chambers (atria) are out of synch with the lower chambers (ventricles).
Symptoms can be very similar to those of AF and can vary in severity. While the symptoms themselves are not generally threatening, as with atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter can also be associated with an increased risk of stroke. There may also be additional underlying causes that need to be addressed, so it is important to get an accurate diagnosis and advice on managing the condition. Medications can be helpful but aren’t always suitable or effective in all cases, alongside cardioversion treatment. Catheter ablation has been found to have high success rates in treating and even eliminating atrial flutter entirely. Find out more through our Atrial Flutter page and information videos.
If you are experiencing symptoms that may indicate a heart rhythm disorder, or are interested in treatment options including catheter ablation, book a consultation to find out how Dr Syed Ahsan can help.