Catheter ablation, also known as cardiac ablation, is a minimally-invasive surgical procedure used to treat a range of heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias), caused by problems with the heart’s electrical signalling systems. 

Catheter ablation involves carefully inserting a catheter (a thin, flexible wire) into the heart via a vein, usually in the upper leg. The catheter can measure the heart’s electrical activity to help pinpoint where abnormal signals originate. We can then deliver treatment (either by heating or freezing the targeted cells) to prevent further abnormal rhythms. It’s generally very safe and effective and can sometimes cure the problem entirely. The recovery time is often short and straightforward, although you will need a few days to rest.

Leading London cardiologist Dr. Syed Ahsan, a London catheter ablation specialist, outlines four common heart rhythm disorders that we can treat with cardiac ablation.

1. Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common form of arrhythmia. It occurs due to problems with electrical signals in the heart’s upper left chamber (atrium). AF affects around 1.5 million people in the UK and is more common in those over 65. Characterised by an irregular heartbeat – which can occur in episodes or be constant – symptoms can range from mild to severe. These include dizziness, fatigue, palpitations, and breathlessness. However, managing and treating atrial fibrillation is vital, regardless of severity. Unmanaged AF is a significant risk factor for suffering a stroke.

Medication and lifestyle measures are usually the first steps in managing this condition. When these are unsuitable or ineffective, other treatments, such as catheter ablation, can be very helpful. As well as reducing your stroke risk, ablation can drastically improve the quality of life for people with severe atrial fibrillation. Sometimes, it eliminates AF symptoms.
Watch our information videos to find out more.

2. Supraventricular tachycardia

Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a range of arrhythmias originating in the heart’s upper chambers, which cause an abnormally fast heartbeat. Your irregular beats may constantly, intermittently, or suddenly occur, causing symptoms such as palpitations, breathlessness and feeling faint or lightheaded.

Most of the time, SVT is not serious – but it can impact your quality of life and may need treatment. Medications may help restore a normal heart rhythm during a flare-up. However, catheter ablation is the most common treatment for more severe and persistent SVT. Watch our information videos to learn more about this complex heart condition.

3. Ventricular ectopics

In simple terms, ventricular ectopics are extra beats originating in the heart’s lower chambers. Ectopic heartbeats are extremely common and may not require closer investigation or treatment. However, some people with ventricular ectopics may need further tests to check for other co-existing or additional heart problems.

You may experience symptoms such as feeling like your heart skipped a beat or the sensation of a sudden thump in your chest, along with dizziness and breathlessness. It is not usually a cause for concern, as too much caffeine or a lack of sleep can trigger these.

If ventricular ectopics become problematic, medication along with lifestyle measures may help. If the ectopic beats originate from a single site within the heart, catheter ablation can be an effective treatment option.

4. Atrial flutter

Atrial flutter (AFL) is similar to atrial fibrillation, as it is also a common heart rhythm disorder that originates in the heart’s upper chambers. However, we characterise atrial fibrillation by its irregular heartbeat. With atrial flutter, the heart still beats regularly but very fast, and the upper chambers (atria) are out of sync with the lower chambers (ventricles).

Symptoms can be very similar to AF and can vary in severity. While the symptoms are not generally threatening, atrial flutter is also associated with an increased risk of stroke. We may need to address additional underlying causes, so you must get an accurate diagnosis and advice on managing the condition.

Medications can be helpful alongside cardioversion treatment, but these aren’t always suitable or beneficial. Catheter ablation has high success rates in treating and even eliminating atrial flutter. Watch our information videos to discover more about this condition. Below, Dr Ahsan discusses everything you need to know about atrial flutter.

Learn more about ablation, the procedure and the recovery process in our complete guide here.

If you are experiencing symptoms that may indicate a heart rhythm disorder, or are interested in catheter ablation for a diagnosed arrhythmia, book a consultation with our Heart Rhythm Specialist, Dr Syed Ahsan. He will evaluate your condition and provide a tailored treatment plan adapted to your needs.