The two most common types of ablation catheters use radiofrequency (RF) energy or cryoablation technology. RF ablation catheters are particularly widely used. These devices are used to destroy malfunctioning tissue that contributes to heart rhythm abnormalities. The procedure is supervised by a care provider who specializes in the treatment of cardiac conditions, and usually takes place in a cardiac clinic or hospital where the patient can be monitored throughout.
In the ablation procedure, the doctor guides ablation catheters into the blood vessels around the heart and performs a short study to find out where erroneous signals originate. These areas are pinpointed, and can be targeted with RF or the cryoablation catheter. The device destroys the tissue so it cannot continue to send bad signals. Afterward, the catheters can be carefully withdrawn and the patient can move to a recovery area. If the procedure is successful, the patient should experience a normal heart rhythm.
RF ablation catheters work by subjecting the tissue to targeted doses of extreme heat, which damages the cells and cauterizes the tissue so it cannot grow back. The cryoablation catheter uses the opposite approach, freezing the tissue with intense cold to kill cells and prevent regrowth. Both procedures require the use of ultrasound or fluoroscopy to monitor the patient during the procedure. This assures the care provider that the catheter hits the right spot, and allows for greater control of all the components of the procedure.
The best choice depends on the patient, the procedure, and the doctor's experience. Doctors may prefer specific types of ablation catheters based on their training and prior experience in this area of medical care. For some patients, use of one kind of catheter or the other may be contraindicated because of other medical issues. Special care must be taken if the patient uses a pacemaker or similar device, as it may malfunction during the examination and treatment, and could create complications. The patient's device may need to be deactivated for safety.
Numerous manufacturers of medical equipment produce ablation catheters and may offer a range for the benefit of care providers. In catheter selection, doctors may consider issues like width, degree of control, and experience with various ablation catheter systems. Before any procedure, technicians carefully examine the equipment to confirm that it is in working order. The working environment is also sterilized for patient safety, and patients receive information about the procedure and what to expect when the ablation is over.