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Heart & Stroke

Cardiac Ablation

cardiac ablation

The heart is a powerful electrical powerhouse responsible for pumping blood throughout your body. A short circuit within the heart's electrical system disturbs its rhythm.

"A normal heart beats in a measured pattern from top to bottom, and right to left," explained Dr. Joseph Reilly, electrophysiologist at Meritus Medical Center. "When it doesn't beat in that direction, you have an arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat."

Some people are unaware they have an abnormal heartbeat—until one day their physician discovers it during a physical exam. Others experience dizziness, shortness of breath, clamminess, weakness, or a fluttering in the chest. Most patients with arrhythmias are uncomfortable with how their heart feels when it is beating. For those with no history of heart disease, irregular heartbeats are usually not life threatening.

However, if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned, Dr. Reilly recommends a thorough physical exam. "It's important to understand the patient's history and what they are feeling," said Dr. Reilly. A Holter heart monitor, a thirty-day event recorder, and EKGs (electrocardiograms) can be used to diagnose the problem. If your symptoms are tolerable and your heart is disease-free, your doctor may take a "wait and see" approach. But for some hearts that beat too fast (known as tachycardia), a procedure called cardiac ablation can correct the arrhythmia.

When performing a cardiac ablation, the physician uses catheters, or long flexible tubes, to locate the arrhythmia within the heart. Once identified, radio waves or microwave energy are applied to the problematic signal pathway via a catheter. The energy disconnects the abnormal rhythm's pathway, leaving the heart's normal electrical pathways intact. As a final step, the physician uses monitoring devices and electrical signals to ensure that the irregular heartbeat is corrected.

Cardiac ablation is an outpatient surgery performed under general anesthesia in Meritus Medical Center's cardiac catheterization laboratory. The procedure generally takes three hours to perform and requires that the patient remain in the hospital for three to four hours of observation. According to Dr. Reilly, cardiac ablation is a safe and accurate treatment with a 98–99% success rate.

Arrhythmias are evaluated by a cardiologist; electrophysiologists like Dr. Reilly are cardiologists with additional specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of heart rhythm disorders. Dr. Reilly has performed more than 3,000 electrophysiology procedures throughout his career. If you suspect an abnormal heartbeat, talk to your doctor about how an electrophysiology test or cardiac ablation may help you.

11116 Medical Campus Road
Hagerstown, MD 21742
301-790-8000
TDD: 1-800-735-2258
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