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Catheter Ablation for Atrial Fibrillation & Atrial Flutter in Adults

Catheter ablation is an emerging technique that is used to treat atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter. This procedure involves the use of energy, either through heat or freezing, to eliminate (ablate) the areas of heart muscle that are causing the heart to beat irregularly.

By destroying the tissue causing the irregular heartbeat, ablation can restore and maintain normal heart rhythm without the use of medications. This minimally invasive procedure has revolutionized the treatment of arrhythmias by eliminating the need for surgery. It is currently the only known therapy that has the potential to either cure atrial arrhythmias or markedly reduce their recurrence. Cardiac electrophysiologists at NYU Langone’s Heart Rhythm Center are nationally and internationally recognized for pioneering catheter ablation. 

VIDEO: Dr. Larry Chinitz, director of the Heart Rhythm Center, explains how catheter ablation is used to treat arrhythmia.

Our doctors perform catheter ablation procedures in our cardiac electrophysiology laboratories at Kimmel Pavilion. where they combine highly advanced imaging, mapping, and recording technologies with their vast clinical knowledge, experience, and expertise to pinpoint and eliminate the tissue that triggers arrhythmia.

Your doctor gives you instructions for how to prepare for this procedure, including which medications you should and should not take on the day of the procedure.

How Catheter Ablation Works

Heart rhythm is regulated by electrical signals that tell the heart how fast to beat based on the body’s energy needs. AFib or atrial flutter causes the heart to deliver the wrong signals. As a result, it beats erratically and too fast.

Catheter ablation aims to silence the heart tissue that is sending the wrong messages, allowing the correct signals to be received and normal heart rhythm to resume.

Catheter ablation begins with your doctor inserting a long, thin catheter into a vein in the groin. Your doctor carefully guides the catheter to the heart’s upper chambers using precision-guided imaging and three-dimensional integrated mapping systems.

After the catheter reaches the heart, your doctor conducts an electrophysiology study. Thin, flexible, electrically sensitive wires are used to measure and map the electrical activity of the heart and pinpoint which areas are creating the problematic signals. Ablation is then used to stop those signals from occurring.

The muscles around the pulmonary veins, which carry oxygenated blood from the lungs to the heart, are often ablated, because this is a common source of arrhythmias. The veins themselves are not ablated.

After the ablation is complete, our doctors use an advanced vascular closure system at the insertion site that allows you to start walking soon after surgery, which reduces the length of your hospital stay. Recovery is different for everyone and can range from a few hours to overnight.

Renal Denervation for Atrial Fibrillation

Laboratory research from the Heart Rhythm Center has highlighted some of the factors contributing to the development of AFib. NYU Langone is a leading site in a national trial to test the use of a new catheter ablation technique to better manage these contributing factors and improve the outcomes of catheter ablation procedures. Your doctor can advise you on whether this clinical trial, known as Symplicity AF, may be right for you.

Catheter Ablation Follow-Up Care

Your first follow-up visit occurs two to four weeks after an ablation. You meet with our nurse practitioner or physician assistant, who reviews your medications and talks with you about any symptoms you are experiencing. These may include fatigue, chest pain, groin discomfort, difficulty swallowing, coughing, or weight gain.

You may continue to feel the symptoms of arrhythmia for up to six weeks after the ablation, until the heart muscle fully heals. This is normal. However, if an arrhythmia lasts for more than 24 hours, or if you have any concerns, please contact your doctor for an evaluation.

You receive a surveillance monitor, which you wear for the prescribed amount of time—it varies depending on the device you receive. Three to six months after the procedure, when your heart has fully healed, you see your electrophysiologist, who reviews the data from the surveillance monitor to determine how your heart has responded to treatment. Your doctor may change or stop some of your medications at this time.

Our Research and Education in Atrial Fibrillation and Atrial Flutter in Adults

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.