This nonsurgical procedure is used to treat some types of rapid heart beating, especially supraventricular tachycardias. Most of these are due to an extra electrical pathway which functions like a short-circuit, causing electrical impulses to circulate very rapidly which in turn makes the heart beat very fast. If this pathway can be permanently interrupted (the term is ablated), the tachycardia can be cured. The success rate of ablation for the great majority of supraventricular tachycardias is 95 to 98%.
How is radiofrequency ablation performed?
In this procedure, the specialist first determines the exact cause of the tachycardia and determines if there is indeed an extra pathway. He then guides a catheter with an electrode at its tip to the site of the extra pathway and delivers pulses of radiofrequency energy. This is a mild, painless form of energy (similar to microwave heat) which causes a very localised heating effect. Heart muscle cells in a area of only a few millimetres diameter are interrupted and so stop conducting the impulses that caused the rapid heartbeating.
As radiofrequency ablation causes little or no discomfort it is usually done under mild sedation with local anaesthesia. It has a high success rate, a low risk of complications and the patient can resume normal activities within a day or so. For these reasons, it's now widely used and is the preferred treatment for many types of rapid heartbeating.