Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Catheter Ablation for a Fast Heart Rate
Catheter ablation is a procedure used to
selectively destroy areas of the heart that are causing a heart rhythm problem.
Thin, flexible wires called catheters are inserted into a vein, typically in the groin or neck. They are threaded up through the vein and into the heart. There is an electrode at the tip of each wire. The electrode sends out radio waves that create heat. This heat destroys the heart tissue that causes the fast heart rate. Another option is to use freezing cold to destroy the heart tissue.
Catheter ablation is done in a hospital where the person can be carefully
monitored. The procedure is done with an
electrophysiology (EP) study, which can identify
specific areas of heart tissue where the fast heart rate may start or where
abnormal electrical pathways are located inside or outside the
atrioventricular (AV) node. This allows doctors to
pinpoint exactly what tiny area of heart muscle to destroy.
local anesthetic is used at the site where the catheter is inserted. The person
usually stays awake during the procedure but may be sedated.
Recovery from catheter ablation is
usually quick. Some people may be hospitalized for 1 to 2 days after the
procedure so doctors can monitor heart rate and rhythm. Many people go home the
Catheter ablation is often used for
people who have persistent or recurrent fast heart rates that do not respond to
drug therapy. Or it is used for people who have certain types of fast heart rates and who do not want
to take medicine.footnote 1, footnote 2
Ablation might be done to treat:
Catheter ablation can eliminate
atrioventricular nodal reciprocating tachycardia (AVNRT), a type of
supraventricular tachycardia, in almost all
This procedure can
successfully eliminate WPW most of the time. There is a small risk of the
arrhythmia recurring even after successful ablation of WPW. But a second
session of catheter ablation is usually successful.footnote 2
For ventricular tachycardia, catheter ablation might make the arrhythmia happen less often or stop the arrhythmia from happening again.footnote 1
Catheter ablation is considered safe.
But it has some
risks. They include:footnote 3
You will have to decide whether the possible benefits of
ablation outweigh these risks. Your doctor can help you decide.
If there is damage to the heart's electrical system during the procedure, you will need a pacemaker. This may happen in about 1 out of 100 people.footnote 3 This means that 99 out of 100 people may not need a pacemaker. With some types of SVT, where the abnormal cells are not close to the heart's electrical system, there is a lower risk of needing a pacemaker.
For help on the decision to have catheter ablation, see:
Complete the special treatment information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this treatment.
Aliot EM, et al. (2009). EHRA/HRS expert consensus on catheter ablation of ventricular arrhythmias. Heart Rhythm, 6(6): 886–933.
Page RL, et al. (2015). 2015 ACC/AHA/HRS guideline for the management of adult patients with supraventricular tachycardia: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines and the Heart Rhythm Society. Circulation. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000311. Accessed September 23, 2015.
Calkins H, et al. (1999). Catheter ablation of accessory pathways, atrioventricular nodal reentrant tachycardia, and the atrioventricular junction: final results of a prospective, multicenter clinical trial. The Atakr Multicenter Investigators Group. Circulation, 99(2): 262–270. DOI:10.1161/01.CIR.99.2.262. Accessed January 19, 2016.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerRakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, ElectrophysiologyMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerJohn M. Miller, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Current as ofJanuary 27, 2016
Current as of:
January 27, 2016
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology & Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & John M. Miller, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2016 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.