Atrial fibrillation is a heart arrhythmia in which abnormal electrical signals begin in the atria (top chambers) of the heart. Atrial fibrillation may be treated by catheter ablation, if medications alone are not effective. In ablation, areas of tissue in the heart that cause arrhythmias are destroyed.
Before ablation procedure, electrical mapping of the heart is performed. An electrically-sensitive catheter is used to map the heart muscle and the origins of the electrical activity throughout the heart. The map tells the specialist which areas of the heart are creating problematic electric signals that interfere with the proper rhythm.
Catheter ablation is a non-invasive procedure; no major incision is necessary. A surgeon inserts a catheter into the heart via a blood vessel. The surgeon carefully destroys malfunctioning tissue using the catheter to deliver energy (such as radiofrequency, laser or cyrotherapy) to scar the problematic areas. The scarred areas will no longer send abnormal signals. Catheter ablation often follows a predictable pattern. For example, the areas around the pulmonary veins are a common culprit, and the ablation will target abnormal signals that start around the pulmonary veins.
Another method of performing ablation surgery is called the Maze procedure. This open-heart procedure is usually only used in extreme cases or when another open-heart surgery (like a multiple bypass) is being performed. In this procedure, an incision in the chest is made to access the heart directly and a surgeon intentionally scrapes or sears the problem tissue of the heart to form the scar tissue.
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