People suffering from arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, may benefit from a procedure called ablation, but there are drawbacks to this form of treatment. Ablation for arrhythmia involves destroying a very small area in the heart to block abnormal electrical currents, which is typically effective for curing the condition. It can often be done non-surgically via a catheter to the heart, though there are also surgical options available to patients for whom it is more appropriate. Unfortunately, no matter how it is performed, the procedure is invasive and can cause complications. Recovery is also fairly long, from several weeks to about two months, and patients may need to be on medication until healed.
One of the biggest pros of ablation for arrhythmia is that it usually cures the condition. By destroying the electrical pathway in the heart that is malfunctioning, the arrhythmia is usually effectively eliminated. This means that patients will no longer suffer from the condition, nor will they have to use medications or other ongoing treatments to manage the issue.
Another positive aspect of ablation for arrhythmia is that it can often be done non-surgically, which lowers the risk of complications for the patient. Patients are often awake and only mildly sedated during the procedure, during which a catheter is inserted through an incision in the groin into a blood vessel up to the heart, where it is then used to do the ablation. For certain patients, a full surgical procedure may be necessary, in which case there are a number of options, including some minimally invasive techniques that can be done with an endoscope.
On the con side, ablation for arrhythmia is always invasive to some extent, whether it is done surgically or not, which means there are always risks to the patient. Inserting a catheter through a vein or artery into the heart can damage those structures and may cause blood clots. Surgical procedures carry their own set of risks, including a bad reaction to general anesthesia, infection, and damage to the heart.
Recovery time is another negative aspect of using ablation for arrhythmia. Patients can expect to spend anywhere from several days to a week in the hospital afterward, some of it in the intensive care unit, as patients need to be closely monitored for a period of time to ensure they are stable. After that, the patient may need to be on medication such as anticoagulants or diuretics for some time and can expect recovery to take about one to two months.