Normal Heart Rhythm.

In order for the heart to do its work (pumping blood throughout the body), it needs a sort of spark plug or electrical impulse to generate a heartbeat. Normally, this electrical impulse begins in the upper right chamber of the heart (in the right atrium) in a place called the sinoatrial (SA) node. The SA node is the natural pacemaker of the heart. The SA node gives off electrical impulses to generate a heartbeat in the range of 60 to 100 times per minute.

What is Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)?

Radiofrequency is a low power, high frequency energy that causes a tiny region of the heart near the tip of the catheter to increase in temperature, thus ablating (or cauterising) a small area of abnormal tissue. Radiofrequency energy has been used for decades by surgeons to cut tissue or to stop bleeding. For the treatment of palpitations, a much lower power of radio-frequency energy is used.

Procedure Information

What happens during a Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure?

You will be transferred to the Electrophysiology Laboratory (EP lab) from your ward, Usually before leaving your ward, you will be given a light sedative and your groin will be shaved.

The EP lab has a patient table, X-Ray tube, ECG monitors and various equipment. The staff in the lab will all be dressed in hospital theater clothes and during the procedure will be wearing hats and masks.

Many ECG monitoring electrodes will be attached to your chest area and patches to your chest and back. These patches may momentarily feel cool on your skin.

A nurse or doctor will insert an intravenous line usually into the back of your hand. This is needed as a reliable way to give you medications during the study without further injections. You will also be given further sedation if and as required. You will also have a blood-pressure cuff attached to your arm that will automatically inflate at various times throughout the procedure.

The oxygen level of your blood will also be measured during the EP study and a small plastic device will be fitted on your finger for this purpose. Your groin area and possibly your neck will be washed with an antiseptic cleansing liquid and you will be covered with sterile sheets, leaving these areas exposed.

An anaesthetist will be present for many procedures. The procedure may be performed under local anaesthetic with sedative medication or under full general anaesthetic. This will be discussed with you before the procedure.

If the procedure is performed under local anaesthetic, the doctor will inject the anaesthetic to the area in the groin where the catheters are to be placed. After that, you may feel pressure as the doctor inserts the catheters but you should not feel pain. If there is any discomfort, you should tell the nursing staff so that more local anaesthetic and sedative medication can be given. Occasionally it is also necessary to place a catheter in a vein in the side of the neck.

The catheters are positioned in your heart using X-Ray guidance. Once the catheters are in place you may feel your heart being stimulated and usually your abnormal heart rhythm will be induced. When the type of abnormal rhythm has been identified and the abnormal tissue localised, the radiofrequency ablation will be applied to this spot. This may cause a transient warm discomfort, in the chest.

Radiofrequency ablation procedures are lengthy and the average duration is approximately 2 to 3 hours.

Which patients are suitable for RFA?

Depending on the findings of your EP study, it may be possible to ablate the mechanism for your abnormal heart rhythm. This is usually done at the same time as your EP study, as the necessary electrodes within the heart are already in place
What are the common cardiac arrhythmias treated with Radiofrequency Ablation?
  • Paroxysmal Supraventricular tachycardia [PSVT]
  • Atrial Flutter
  • Atrial Fibrillation
  • Ventricular Tachycardia


What happens prior to the procedure?

You will need to stop taking any medication that you have been prescribed for your abnormal heart rhythm 5 days prior to your procedure. If you are taking anti-coagulation (blood thinning) medication eg warfarin then you will need to stop this for one week prior to your procedure. If this has not been discussed with you, or if you are unsure, please call us.

For procedures being performed in the morning, you will usually be admitted to hospital in the evening before. For afternoon procedures you may be admitted on the morning of the procedure. Prior to the procedure, you will require an ECG and blood test.

You will be required to fast for at least six hours before the study. If your procedure is in the afternoon, you may have a light early breakfast. If your procedure is in the morning, DO NOT EAT OR DRINK AFTER MIDNIGHT, except for sips of water to help you swallow your pills.

What should you expect after a Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure?

After your procedure you will be transferred back to your ward where you will have to lie flat for 4-6 hours. During this time, it is important to keep your legs straight and your head relaxed on the pillow.

Most patients stay in hospital overnight and their heart rhythm may be monitored during this time.

The groin area may feel sore and bruised for several weeks after the procedure. You should avoid strenuous physical activity and sports for 2 weeks after the procedure until this has settled. Most people take approximately 1 week off work.

Some people may experience minor chest discomfort and brief palpitations due to extra beats of the heart for several days after the procedure. This is due to the irritation caused by the ablation in the heart and will settle. If this persists or is not mild, it should be reported to our team.

What risks are involved in a Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure?

Radiofrequency ablation procedures are performed on a daily basis at the Apollo Main Hospital, Chennai. It is a common and very low-risk procedure. The worldwide complication rate for Radiofrequency ablation procedures is less than 0.5%.

Radio-frequency ablation is an effective and safe way to cure patients suffering from cardiac arrhythmias.

Please do not hesitate to discuss any aspect of the procedure including potential complications with your doctor.

What are the benefits of RF catheter ablation therapy?

Quality of care : Most cardiac arrhythmias can be treated and cure by catheter ablation thereby eliminating the need for lifelong medical therapy.

Quality of Life : catheter ablation can restore the quality of life of the patient leading to a happier family life and improved productivity at work place.

Save lives : Some life threatening ventricular arrhythmias can be successfully treated with catheter ablation thereby providing patients with an option to live.

Cost of care : The overall lifecycle cost of care for the patient may be reduced due to the curative nature of catheter ablation therapy.

-Senior Consultant Cardiologist & Electrophysiologist

-Chief, Cardiac Pacing and Arrhythmia Services

-Department of Cardiac Pacing and Electrophysiology

-Apollo Hospitals, Greams Road, Chennai.

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