Ablation: Surgery for Arrhythmia

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Having a heart rhythm disorder can be scary. A dangerous arrhythmia can cause cardiac arrest or other emergencies. A heart ablation can help your heart keep a regular rhythm.

The heart and vascular experts at UVA Health can answer your questions about your heart health. We can create a custom plan for your arrhythmia treatment. In fact, our cardiology and vascular teams have been nationally recognized for their leading-edge care.

What Is Ablation?

An ablation procedure treats your heart for uneven heart rhythms. We put tiny cuts on your heart. The cuts cause scarring. The scars prevent uneven electric pulses in your heart.

We can do ablations using:

  • A small tube, called a catheter, goes into your blood vessels through a small cut on your chest or groin (minimally invasive procedure)
  • Open ablation surgery goes through a large cut on your chest to get to your heart
  • Combined procedure that uses smaller cuts on your chest rather than open surgery
Bob Wright with the Grand Canyon in the background. He bike the U.S. following his ablation.

Trusting His Heart Again: Bob's Ablation

Bob Wright was diagnosed with afib, a heart arrhythmia. But after a heart ablation procedure at UVA Health, Bob was able to get back on his bike. His goal was to live out his dream: riding across the country.

See Bob's Ablation Story

Catheter Ablation

This cardiac ablation procedure finds the areas in the heart that cause atrial fibrillation (afib). We find these areas in and around the veins that bring blood back to the heart from the lungs (pulmonary veins).

To find them, a doctor puts a catheter into your blood vessels. We watch the catheter as it moves to the heart.

Once in place, your doctor records your heart's electric signals. They also map out your upper heart using 3D images.

Then we put an electric current through the catheter. It heats the heart muscle to put tiny wounds on it. These will scar up. We sometimes use cold instead of electricity. That's called cryoablation.

Your doctor may create a ring or circle around your pulmonary veins, called pulmonary vein isolation (PVI).

Where we put the cuts and how many there are depends on the type of heart rhythm disorder you have. Not everyone is a good candidate for these procedures.

Epicardial Ablation

Sometimes, a heart's uneven beat comes from outside the heart. When that happens, we may do an epicardial ablation. This procedure uses a catheter through the skin under your ribs. 

Ablation Surgery

We can do ablation surgery alone or at the same time as another heart surgery, like valve replacement. During open surgery, we can do an ablation using:

  • Radiofrequency ablation (radio waves)
  • Cryoablation (cold energy)
  • Ultrasound
  • Microwaves

What Does Heart Ablation Recovery Look Like?

How long it takes you to recover depends on the type of ablation you had and whether there were other procedures done at the same time.

You'll still have arrhythmias while you recover. Over time, the arrhythmia will get better.