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Ablation Can Eliminate AFib. But Is It Right for You?

October 13, 2023

Every day, millions of Americans live in weary anticipation of their next atrial fibrillation (AFib) episode, and the distressing symptoms that accompany it.

It looms over them when they travel. When they RSVP to a big event. When they’re presented with a common trigger, like a piece of chocolate or a cup of coffee.

If this sounds like you, an ablation procedure could put an end to your worries.

Here’s how to know if you’re a candidate — and what to expect next.

Suffering from an abnormal heart rhythm?

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Is ablation for AFib a good choice for you?

Let’s start with a few questions.

  1. Besides AFib, are you in good health? “In general, most candidates for ablation are young and healthy,” says Jude Clancy, MD, a Hartford HealthCare cardiac electrophysiologist who practices in Middlesex and Old Lyme.
  2. Have you addressed any underlying conditions? If your AFib is caused by something like high blood pressure, sleep apnea, or lung, thyroid or heart disease, you’ll need to attend to that first. “You have to correct underlying issues, and modify your lifestyle risk factors,” says Dr. Clancy.
  3. Have you considered medication or a minimally invasive cardioversion procedure? For many patients, one or both treatments is the next step. But they don’t work for everyone. “If a patient has recurrent AFib despite cardioversion or medication, or they don’t tolerate the meds well, we often proceed with ablation,” says Dr. Clancy.
  4. Are your symptoms interfering with your quality of life? If you don’t experience a lot of AFib symptoms, you may not need or want an ablation. But if your AFib episodes come complete with a pounding heart, fatigue, trouble breathing or dizziness, an ablation could be worth it.

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What happens during an ablation for AFib?

Your team will thread a thin tube up through your leg veins to your heart. Then they’ll target the source of your heart’s electrical misfires, and burn or freeze those precise spots to block the connections.

“It’s similar to stepping on a match to put it out before the forest fire happens, so you don’t get to this raging disorganized arrhythmia that’s difficult to control,” says Dr. Clancy.

> Related: Can Wearable Tech Like Smartwatches Actually Detect AFib?

What happens during recovery?

Because ablations only require a few small incisions, recovery is simple.

“We tell patients to take it easy for a week, because we don’t want you running around and developing bleeding at the access sites,” says Dr. Clancy. “Within a week of the procedure, most patients are back to normal life.”

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Is it worth it?

For 80 to 85% of patients who have the procedure, ablation successfully eliminates AFib — and with it, the constant stress of wondering when their next episode might occur.

“After a successful ablation, these patients’ lives are completely different. The quality of life is incredible,” says Dr. Clancy. “They can make travel plans, exercise, have that piece of chocolate, look forward to their son’s or daughter’s wedding — all without worrying about going into AFib. They no longer limit their lives.”