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How Long Does It Take to Recover From Heart Ablation Surgery?

Medically Reviewed on 12/22/2021

Recovery from heart ablation surgery typically takes about 1 week. Discomfort or soreness in the area where the catheter was inserted is normal

Recovery from heart ablation surgery typically takes about 1 week. Discomfort or soreness in the area where the catheter was inserted is normal, and you should be able to resume normal activities within a few days. However, you should avoid lifting heavy objects or strenuous workouts for at least 1-2 weeks.

Remember to follow your doctor’s instructions regarding your medications, activities, and follow-up visits. If you experience unusual pain or swelling, excessive bleeding at the incision, or consistent heart irregularities, contact your doctor immediately.

When is heart ablation surgery needed?

Cardiac ablation is done to correct arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythms. The procedure involves inserting catheters in the veins or arteries that reach your heart to deliver heat or freezing energy to destroy the abnormal electrical signals and restore regular heartbeat.

Cardiac ablation is usually recommended when medications have failed to correct arrhythmia. Other reasons the procedure may be required include:

  • Serious side effects from medications to treat arrhythmias
  • High risk of complications such as a sudden cardiac arrest
  • Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome
  • Supraventricular tachycardia
  • Atrial fibrillation

Cardiac ablation done for atrial fibrillation helps control symptoms such as shortness of breath and heart palpitations. The procedure is helpful when atrial fibrillation is not caused by any structural issues in the heart. It is more likely to work if atrial fibrillation onset is recent, particularly less than 7 days.

What to expect before cardiac ablation surgery

Your doctor will advise you to undergo the following tests before planning cardiac ablation surgery:

  • Blood tests
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Echocardiography
  • Stress tests
  • Coronary angiography
  • Cardiac computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging

Let your doctor know if you are pregnant or think that you are pregnant. Radiation is used when heat energy is applied during the surgery, which may harm your unborn baby.

You will be admitted at least a day before the cardiac ablation surgery and asked to avoid drinking and eating 9-12 hours before the procedure.

You will be informed about which medications you can take with a few sips of water and which ones you need to avoid.

On the day of the surgery, you will be given a sedative that makes you relax and stay either partially or fully asleep. This will make the procedure less painful. The amount of sedative administered depends on the type of arrhythmia you have.

How is cardiac ablation surgery performed?

Cardiac ablation surgery takes between 2-4 hours to perform. The procedure is done in an electrophysiology lab:

  • Anesthesia is injected into an area in your groin or neck and a small incision made. 
  • 3-4 catheters are inserted through the blood vessels to your heart, helping your surgeons visualize the inside of the heart area that needs to be worked on.
  • Electrodes attached to the ends of the catheters generate electrical signals in your heart and help locate the area that is causing the abnormal heart rhythm.
  • Your surgeon will use one of two methods to destroy the problematic area, namely, heat energy using mild radiofrequency or cold energy using freezing temperatures.
  • Once the tissue is destroyed, the catheters and wires will be removed.
  • Scar tissue that forms will block the transmission of abnormal signals in the heart.

You may or may not feel pain or mild discomfort in your chest during the procedure.

What to expect after cardiac ablation surgery

You will be monitored for 2-6 hours after the procedure to check bleeding and vitals, including heart rate and blood pressure.

Most people go home the same day of the procedure. Others may need to stay in the hospital for 1-2 days, depending on their overall health status.

QUESTION

In the U.S., 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease.
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What are complications of heart ablation surgery?

Complications are rarely seen with catheter ablation. However, if they occur, they may include:

  • Bleeding or infection at the surgery site
  • Damage to blood vessels
  • Injury to heart valves
  • Worsening of existing problems
  • Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
  • Venous thromboembolism (blood clots in your legs or lungs)
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Pulmonary vein stenosis (narrowing of the veins that connect your heart to your lungs)
  • Kidney damage
  • Radiation exposure

Very rarely, the surgery may lead to death, although the chances of dying from cardiac ablation surgery are extremely low.

How successful is heart ablation surgery?

Depending on the type of arrhythmia, success rates of cardiac ablation surgery for arrhythmia can be as high as 90%.

After cardiac ablation surgery for atrial fibrillation:

  • 40% of people have no recurrences of arrhythmia for at least 1 year.
  • 37% of people have no recurrences of arrhythmia for at least 2 years.
  • 29% of people have no recurrences of arrhythmia for at least 5 years.

Most people experience symptom relief and improved quality of life after surgery. If arrhythmia recurs, surgery may need to be repeated or other treatment options may be considered. Repeat procedures have a long-term success rate of 63%.

Medically Reviewed on 12/22/2021

References

Image Source: iStock Images

Catheter ablation. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1828541-overview

“Sobering” Long-Term Outcomes Following Ablation of Atrial Fibrillation. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/735306

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