How Serious Is a Heart Ablation Surgery?

Heart ablation or cardiac ablation is a procedure done to rectify problems with heart rhythm (arrhythmias).
Heart ablation is a procedure done to rectify problems with heart rhythm.

Heart ablation surgery is usually safe and a minimally-invasive technique intended to cure atrial fibrillation without major surgery.  But like every procedure, there are some risks associated with it.

Problems with heart ablation surgery include:

  • The injury to the blood vessels as the catheter passes through
  • Blood clots in the legs or lungs
  • Stroke or heart attack
  • Worsening of the arrhythmias
  • Narrowing of the veins between the lungs and the heart
  • Kidney damage from the dye
  • Puncture in heart
  • Damage to the heart valves
  • Cardiac tamponade (fluid around the heart)
  • Esophageal atrial fistula (an abnormal connection that forms between the esophagus and part of the heart)
  • Death

What is a heart ablation surgery?

Heart ablation or cardiac ablation is a procedure done to rectify problems with heart rhythm (arrhythmias). It is a low-risk procedure that involves scarring or destroying the tissue in the heart, which triggers an abnormal heart rhythm. Heart ablation is carried out by the insertion of a catheter through the groin and directed to the heart to injure the tissues with radio waves to reduce fibrillation.

Types of cardiac catheter ablation include:

  • High-energy radio waves (radiofrequency ablation): The physician inserts a catheter to send a strong radio wave that ultimately scars each vein or a group of veins.
  • Cryoablation: The physician uses a probe with a very cold temperature to freeze the tissue to cause a scar.
  • Microwave ablation: The physician sends energy through a thin probe to scar the tissue.
  • Pulmonary vein ablation: This involves utilizing energy around the connections of the pulmonary vein near the atrium to restore the regular heart rhythm.

Surgical ablation involves an incision in the chest and is of three types:

  • Maze procedure
  • Mini maze
  • Convergent procedure


In the U.S., 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. See Answer

Why is a heart ablation done?

Heart ablation may help correct arrhythmias. Ablation isn’t the first line of treatment; however, it may be indicated in people who:

  • Have failed medication therapy
  • Have serious adverse effects from medications used in the treatment of arrhythmias
  • Have certain types of arrhythmias that respond to ablation
  • Have complications arising from arrhythmias, such as sudden cardiac arrest

How to prepare for a heart ablation?

You should enlist your medical and medication history to the physician. Tell the physician about what medicines you are taking, even nonprescription medicines or herbs. Before the surgery, you should:

  • Ask your physician about the medicines to take on the day of the surgery
  • Inform the physician if you are on blood thinners
  • Inform the physician if you have a cold, flu, fever, herpes breakout, or any illness
  • Stop smoking a few days before the procedure
  • Stop drinking or eating anything after midnight the night before your procedure
  • Stop taking antiarrhythmic medications several days before the procedure
  • Ask the doctor about any precautions if you have a pacemaker or implanted defibrillator

How is heart ablation surgery performed?

The procedure includes:
  • An intravenous line is passed into a vein in the arm for anesthesia and sedative medicines
  • Your groin area will be cleaned and shaved before the surgery
  • To numb the injection site, you will be given a local anesthetic
  • The physician will make a needle puncture through your skin into the blood vessel in the groin
  • After making a puncture, the physician inserts a small straw-sized tube (sheath) into the blood vessel. Through this sheath, the physician gently guides a catheter into the blood vessel.
  • Through this sheath, the physician feeds the heart with several long, thin tubes with wires, known as electrode catheters.
  • The physician locates the abnormal tissue by sending a small electrical impulse through the electrode catheter.
  • The physician places the catheter at the precise site inside the heart where the unusual tissues are present. Radiofrequency energy is sent through a catheter that destroys the heart muscles in a tiny area, which is responsible for abnormal heart rhythms.

How long does it take to recover from heart ablation surgery?

After the surgery, the sheath remains in the leg for several hours. After removing the sheath:

  • The nurse will put pressure on the puncture site to stop the bleeding
  • You should keep your leg straight for 6-8 hours.
  • You may be given Aspirin for 2-4 weeks to minimize the risk of clot formation

After going home:

  • Avoid physical activity for 3 days
  • Don’t drive for 24 hours
  • Don’t drink alcohol for 24 hours after you leave the hospital
WebMD. Cardiac ablation.

American Heart Association. Ablation for arrhythmias.

MedlinePlus. Cardiac ablation procedures.