Catheter Ablation

Minimally invasive procedure that uses hot or cold energy to stop atrial fibrillation (AFib)

Catheter ablation destroys the cells responsible for AFib. This procedure is minimally invasive, offering a short recovery.

To pump blood, your’s heart’s pacemaker cells generate an electrical impulse in a specific location (sinoatrial node). During atrial fibrillation (AFib or AF), those electrical impulses start in the pulmonary veins atrial junction.

AFib is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). Just like starting a fire, your heart needs a spark, or trigger, to start an episode of AFib. That trigger tends to occur in cells located around the atrial junction. They can generate very rapid electrical activity and create the perfect storm for the heart to go into atrial fibrillation.

During catheter ablation, our specialists find and ablate (destroy) these cells using heat or cold energy. You undergo this procedure in a catheterization lab (cath lab). A cath lab is a special hospital room equipped with the sophisticated tools needed for these procedures.

Catheter ablation generally lasts around three to four hours, with some patients going home the same day to recover. During this minimally invasive procedure, your medical team:

  1. Puts you to sleep using anesthesia
  2. Creates two pinhole-sized incisions in your groin
  3. Uses those incisions to thread small, thin tubes (catheters) with electrodes (sensors) through the blood vessels and into your heart
  4. Maps the areas responsible for the AFib and destroys them

What to Expect During Catheter Ablation

To pump blood, your’s heart’s pacemaker cells generate an electrical impulse in a specific location (sinoatrial node). During atrial fibrillation (AFib or AF), those electrical impulses start in the pulmonary veins atrial junction.

AFib is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). Just like starting a fire, your heart needs a spark, or trigger, to start an episode of AFib. That trigger tends to occur in cells located around the atrial junction. They can generate very rapid electrical activity and create the perfect storm for the heart to go into atrial fibrillation.

During catheter ablation, our specialists find and ablate (destroy) these cells using heat or cold energy. You undergo this procedure in a catheterization lab (cath lab). A cath lab is a special hospital room equipped with the sophisticated tools needed for these procedures.

Catheter ablation generally lasts around three to four hours, with some patients going home the same day to recover. During this minimally invasive procedure, your medical team:

  1. Puts you to sleep using anesthesia
  2. Creates two pinhole-sized incisions in your groin
  3. Uses those incisions to thread small, thin tubes (catheters) with electrodes (sensors) through the blood vessels and into your heart
  4. Maps the areas responsible for the AFib and destroys them

At IU Health Heart & Vascular Care, we perform thousands of catheter ablations — more than anywhere else in Indiana. Our experience helps us deliver great results, no matter how routine or complex the procedure. We also provide:

Dedicated AFib specialists

Our heart rhythm specialists provide outstanding care convenient to where you live and work. Primary care physicians and heart specialists refer patients from across the region to them. Patients without referrals are also welcome.

Our specialists regularly meet with other leading heart experts to discuss and plan your care. We use medicine therapy, advanced procedures and innovative equipment to handle even the most difficult-to-treat arrhythmias.

The latest technology

Our heart specialists use sophisticated equipment to create real-time, 3D images of your heart and more precisely ablate the heart tissue. Advanced navigation tools act like GPS, guiding your doctor to the exact location of signals responsible for atrial fibrillation.

This technology has led to safer, shorter procedures. It also reduces your radiation exposure by eliminating the need for X-rays.

AFib research and clinical trials

We actively study ways to improve patient care and outcomes. Our clinical research program gives you access to promising new treatments before they become widely available. These innovative studies include using other sources of energy and mapping technologies.

Personalized treatments

We use different energy sources to treat AFib. To determine the best approach for you, we consider your anatomy, treatment goals and the extent of the AFib. We offer:

  • Heat energy: We treat AFib with heat (radiofrequency energy) using a catheter to destroy tissue. Because catheters are very flexible, we can precisely target any areas within the heart. This capability allows us to ablate any kind of arrhythmia. Energy is delivered point by point within the heart.
  • Cold energy: Cryoballoon ablation uses the power of cold to treat AFib. We use a large balloon catheter to disable the cells responsible for arrhythmias with a couple of “freezes.”
  • Laser: We treat AFib with a laser balloon and attached camera that allows doctors to precisely view the heart tissue and destroy it. In radiofrequency and cryoballoon ablation, doctors instead use a computer model of the heart to plan and deliver hot or cold energy treatment.

Catheter Ablation at IU Health

At IU Health Heart & Vascular Care, we perform thousands of catheter ablations — more than anywhere else in Indiana. Our experience helps us deliver great results, no matter how routine or complex the procedure. We also provide:

Dedicated AFib specialists

Our heart rhythm specialists provide outstanding care convenient to where you live and work. Primary care physicians and heart specialists refer patients from across the region to them. Patients without referrals are also welcome.

Our specialists regularly meet with other leading heart experts to discuss and plan your care. We use medicine therapy, advanced procedures and innovative equipment to handle even the most difficult-to-treat arrhythmias.

The latest technology

Our heart specialists use sophisticated equipment to create real-time, 3D images of your heart and more precisely ablate the heart tissue. Advanced navigation tools act like GPS, guiding your doctor to the exact location of signals responsible for atrial fibrillation.

This technology has led to safer, shorter procedures. It also reduces your radiation exposure by eliminating the need for X-rays.

AFib research and clinical trials

We actively study ways to improve patient care and outcomes. Our clinical research program gives you access to promising new treatments before they become widely available. These innovative studies include using other sources of energy and mapping technologies.

Personalized treatments

We use different energy sources to treat AFib. To determine the best approach for you, we consider your anatomy, treatment goals and the extent of the AFib. We offer:

  • Heat energy: We treat AFib with heat (radiofrequency energy) using a catheter to destroy tissue. Because catheters are very flexible, we can precisely target any areas within the heart. This capability allows us to ablate any kind of arrhythmia. Energy is delivered point by point within the heart.
  • Cold energy: Cryoballoon ablation uses the power of cold to treat AFib. We use a large balloon catheter to disable the cells responsible for arrhythmias with a couple of “freezes.”
  • Laser: We treat AFib with a laser balloon and attached camera that allows doctors to precisely view the heart tissue and destroy it. In radiofrequency and cryoballoon ablation, doctors instead use a computer model of the heart to plan and deliver hot or cold energy treatment.

Before your procedure, we explain your personal risk factors for AFib. We also provide support to help you address them. For example, we can connect you with a dietitian to help with weight loss or a pulmonologist to treat sleep apnea.Sleep apnea can trigger episodes of AFib.

To prepare for anesthesia, you should avoid eating after midnight the night before your procedure.

Preparing for Catheter Ablation

Before your procedure, we explain your personal risk factors for AFib. We also provide support to help you address them. For example, we can connect you with a dietitian to help with weight loss or a pulmonologist to treat sleep apnea.Sleep apnea can trigger episodes of AFib.

To prepare for anesthesia, you should avoid eating after midnight the night before your procedure.

The day after your procedure, you may start getting back to normal. You should be able to walk around and drive.

If your job is not too physically demanding, you may return to work within a few days. Within four to five days, you can resume regular activities.

After Catheter Ablation

The day after your procedure, you may start getting back to normal. You should be able to walk around and drive.

If your job is not too physically demanding, you may return to work within a few days. Within four to five days, you can resume regular activities.

Do I need to take blood thinners, or anticoagulants, after the procedure?

The answer depends on your underlying risk factors for stroke (diabetes, hypertension, congestive heart failure, age and prior stroke history). Your doctor will discuss your options with you.

What kind of follow-up care will I need?

We usually see patients within a week or two of their procedure. You return at three months for a check-up, and we follow-up with you once or twice a year. You may also see your primary care physician during this time.

Frequently Asked Questions About Catheter Ablation

Do I need to take blood thinners, or anticoagulants, after the procedure?

The answer depends on your underlying risk factors for stroke (diabetes, hypertension, congestive heart failure, age and prior stroke history). Your doctor will discuss your options with you.

What kind of follow-up care will I need?

We usually see patients within a week or two of their procedure. You return at three months for a check-up, and we follow-up with you once or twice a year. You may also see your primary care physician during this time.

Patient Stories for Catheter Ablation