What is a surgical ablation?

A surgical ablation, also known as a cardiac ablation, is a procedure that is used to correct abnormal electrical rhythm in the heart. Mercy Health cardiac physicians perform two types of surgical ablations:

  • Radiofrequency ablation (or catheter ablation) — uses heat energy to destroy tissue that may be causing cardiac arrhythmias
  • Cryoablation — uses cold temperatures to destroy heart tissue that is causing cardiac arrhythmias

Your Mercy Health cardiac team will evaluate your case individually to determine what is the best option for your case.

Who is a candidate for a radiofrequency surgical ablation?

Many patients with cardiac arrhythmias, such as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), atrial flutter or atrial fibrillation, can be treated with medical management. If medications are not effective, your Mercy Health cardiologist may recommend a surgical cardiac ablation.

Who is a candidate for cryoablation?

Your Mercy Health doctor may recommend cryoablation to treat cardiac arrhythmias that occur before or during surgery. He or she may also use cryoablation during mitral valve repairs or coronary artery bypass grafting. 

What to expect during a radiofrequency surgical ablation?

A radiofrequency surgical ablation procedure takes approximately two to four hours and is performed in a hospital electrophysiology (EP) lab or catheterization lab. Some patients can return home on the day of their procedure, while others must stay overnight for observation. 

During a surgical radiofrequency ablation procedure, your doctor will make a small puncture in the skin at the groin area. He or she will insert a catheter through a sheath into a vessel. Catheters with electrodes will be thread to the heart. Once in position, your doctor will send an electrical impulse through the catheter to detect where the abnormal tissue is located. Once located, your doctor will position the catheter on the abnormal cells and send radiofrequency energy to the tissue. The heat emitted by the radiofrequency energy will destroy the abnormal heart cells while avoiding the healthy tissue.

What to expect during a cryoablation procedure?

During a cryoablation procedure, your doctor will insert a thin tube into a vein in the groin and thread it to the heart. When the abnormal cells causing the cardiac arrhythmia are located, the doctor will cool the tip of the cryoablation probe to a sub-zero temperature and place directly on the abnormal cells. When cooled, the cells causing the irregular heart rhythm will no longer send abnormal heart rhythms.

Another type of cryoablation is used to restore normal electrical conduction by freezing tissue or heart pathways that interfere with the normal distribution of the heart’s electrical impulses. 

What are risks associated with a surgical ablation procedure?

There are few risks associated with having a surgical ablation procedure. Because a catheter is inserted into a vessel, your veins can be damaged during insertion. You could also get an infection at the insertion site.

Recovery after surgical ablation

Most people can return to their day-to-day activities within a day of the procedure. Your doctor will advise you to closely follow your discharge instructions such as:

  • Do not drive for at least a day after being discharged from the hospital
  • Do not drink alcoholic drinks for at least 24 hours after being discharged
  • Avoid strenuous activity for three to five days after being discharged
  • If you experience any abnormal symptoms such as dizziness, severe swelling or pain at the puncture site, chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath or irregular heartbeat, call your doctor right away

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