Radiofrequency ablation (or RFA) is a procedure used for a variety of physical conditions, most notably a rapid heartbeat, which begins in the heart's upper chambers.
A widely-utilized process, RFA is the preferred method for treating rapid heartbeats (or supraventricular tachyarrhythmias) and has a success rate of greater than 90 percent. RFA is generally required for heart patients whose rapid heart rates can't be managed by lifestyle changes or medication.
To ensure proper function of the heart, its electrical system must send impulses to cause uniform contraction, which pumps blood and oxygen through the body. If the electrical impulses aren't operating correctly, unusual pathways develop, leading to abnormal heartbeats, or arrhythmias, that either compete or overtake the function of the sinus node, which has been called the heart's normal pacemaker.
Tissue permanently damaged by irregular electrical impulses will no longer be able to conduct those electrical impulses.
Once abnormal electronic action is located, an energy-emitting electrode is placed - via a thin tube known as a catheter - in the heart muscle, eliminating the offending tissue. With the help of moving X-rays (or fluoroscopy), a physician is able to thread the catheter in the exact portion of the heart where electrical signals that stimulate the rapid heartbeat are located.
At that point, painless radio waves are conducted to the heart, eliminating through heat (or "cooking") the cells that are transmitting the impulses that brought on the speedy heartbeat. There may be some minimal chest pain during the procedure's application of heat.
The procedure can take between four and eight hours, and while patients are sedated, some are able to view the process from X-ray monitors. When the RFA process is completed, patients are instructed to remain still for several hours so that the incisions can begin healing properly. Some patients remain in the hospital for a day or two so their doctor can observe how the electrical signals are affecting heart rate.
Palpitations of the heart are a common symptom for several weeks after the procedure, but most patients are able to resume their normal lifestyle in a few days, although they shouldn't drive for a couple of days. Some patients are advised to take an aspirin a day for six weeks after ablation, and the lifting of heavy objects is not recommended for at least a week after the procedure.
In addition to dealing with heart rhythm issues, RFA is utilized for destroying cancer cells and tumors, treating lower back pain, neck pain and arthritis, for eliminating varicose veins and for treating habitual snoring or sleep apnea.