Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Can I have a catheter procedure to stop atrial fibrillation?

Ask the doctor

Can I have a catheter procedure to stop atrial fibrillation?

Q. My doctor told me I should think about having a procedure something like angioplasty to stop my atrial fibrillation. Can you tell me more?

A. I think you are asking about catheter ablation. This procedure is a bit like angioplasty because it is performed without major surgery, using instruments guided into the heart via tiny wires (catheters) that are inserted into a blood vessel in the groin. The similarity ends there, though. Angioplasty opens a closed or blocked coronary artery. Catheter ablation injures small patches of tissue on the heart's inner surface. This destroys the sources of stray electrical signals that trigger and sustain atrial fibrillation, or acts like a roadblock against them.

Illustrtation of catheter ablation procedure

Briefly heating the inner wall of the left atrium around the openings to the pulmonary veins (dotted lines) creates scar tissue that can block the signals that trigger atrial fibrillation.

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