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Cardiac Ablation: Procedure and Risks

written by: Lashan Clarke • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 2/24/2010

Cardiac ablation is a procedure that is carried out when the electricity within the heart malfunctions and the heartbeat becomes irregular. The reason for the electrical malfunction is most commonly damage to the heart muscle.

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    The heart is part of the cardiac system, and a heartbeat is the sound the valves of the heart make to pump blood from one area of the heart, and from the heart to the rest of the vessels in the body. Actually this whole process is quite complex and requires a series of electrical impulses and chemicals in the heart muscle for the heartbeat to occur. This is why a physician is able to look at the cardiac cycle on a graph and determine what might be wrong with the heart.

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    What is Cardiac Ablation?

    Cardiac ablation is a procedure that is necessary when the electricity within the heart malfunctions and the heartbeat becomes irregular. The reason for the electrical malfunction can be various issues. One common reason is damage of the heart muscle. If the heart muscle is damaged, then the muscle does not beat regularly. The damage can be caused by infection, direct trauma to the heart, or genetics. Other reasons for an irregular heartbeat could be the use of certain medications or vitamin B deficiency.

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    How the Procedure is Carried Out

    Cardiac ablation is used to refer to the process of correcting the electrical malfunction within the heart using non-surgical methods. Instead, the ablation involves using catethers, wires, and tubes being inserted into the major vessels that directly correct to the heart. Next, a jolt of energy is applied to the area of heart tissue that is producing the irregular heartbeat, and this renders it dormant. Thus the patient does not have to experience scars from having their chest opened.

    The most common areas where the catheter is inserted are the groin and neck areas. As the catheter makes its way up to the heart, the cardiologist is able to watch its progress inside of the vessel as it enters into the heart. When the catheter has arrived to the area of damaged tissue, the tissue can be destroyed by either applying heat in a cauterization, or by applying cryoblation that freezes that area.

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    Risks of Cardiac Ablation

    However, with any procedure there are risks to cardiac ablation. The main danger to cardiac ablation includes what happens at the site of entry. The procedure has an increased risk of bleeding or infection at the site of entry of the catheter into the vessel. In some instances, blood clots can form making removal difficult and slowly down healing to the area. Some people can experience skin sensitivity at the point of insertion. In more cases, the danger of cardiac ablation include puncture of the vessel in which the catheter is placed in.

    There can also be puncture of the heart or lungs as the surgeon maneuvers the catheter around the body. If this is a miscalculation in the area that is causing the irregular heartbeat, making this area inactive could lead to the condition known as “heart block” where the electrical impulses of the heart are blocked from firing, making it impossible to conduct blood through the heart. In very rare cases, a heart attack or death can occur.