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A Guide to Pediatric Cardiac Ablation

written by: Lashan Clarke • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 4/28/2011

Pediatric cardiac ablation is the process in which damaged tissue is destroyed using a catheter. This procedure is carried out using the traditional or pulmonary vein methods to restore a normal heart rhythm.

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    When just looking at this procedure on the surface, cardiac ablation might seem like a difficult procedure to understand and perform. In simple terms, cardiac ablation is used to treat cardiac arrhythmias. An arrhythmia is a condition in which the heart has an unusual heart beat or rhythm. So in a similar manner that an irregular heartbeat is treated in an adult, pediatric cardiac ablation is used to treat abnormal heart rhythms in children.

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    The Techniques of Cardiac Ablation in Children

    To be considered as a candidate for cardiac ablation, a child will need to have a heart problem that causes his or her heart to beat in an abnormal way. This procedure is usually carried out on children that have tachycardia or fibrillation, which has a fast heart-rate.

    Traditional Ablation

    The procedure starts with the use of a needle to insert a catheter with electrodes attached to it. This catheter is inserted into the leg or arm and travels through the vessels into the heart. When it reaches the heart, the electrodes on the catheter are used to test where the abnormal electrical activity is coming from in the heart.

    The catheter will be used to destroy parts of the heart muscle, and this area that is destroyed is where the nerve signal pathways have become disrupted. The catheter will destroy damaged tissue, either damaged by a heart attack, infection or trauma. A blast of radio frequency energy from the catheter will create a demarcation or an ablation line. This isolates the damaged tissue from the healthy heart tissue. By isolating the damaged tissue, the theory behind the surgery is that the heartbeat should again return to normal.

    Pulmonary Vein Ablation

    This specific type of ablation is specifically used to treat atrial fibrillation. A burst of energy will be applied from the catheter to the area where the atria joins the pulmonary vein. This will produce a circular “ablation line" and can stop the abnormal rhythms produced during atrial contraction.

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    Complications of Ablation

    Pediatric cardiac ablation does have its complications. It is not always successful at restoring a normal heartbeat. Quite a number of studies have shown that cardiac ablation in children might need to be repeated as soon as within 12 months of the first time the procedure is completed. Therefore, additional surgery to remove damaged tissue may be required. This can also include another type of heart surgery, depending on the child’s condition, to correct the problem.

    In some instances, the child can develop an infection from the area where the catheter is inserted. There is also a higher risk of damage to the vessels with catheter insertion in children. Children can also be sensitive to the testing liquids and develop an allergic reaction caused by the dye used to view the catheter during insertion into the heart.

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