Cardiac ablation can improve symptoms and may extend a person’s life by treating certain heart arrhythmias. The procedure is often effective, but some serious complications can occur.

Cardiac ablation involves inserting a thin wire known as a catheter into the heart. During the procedure, a doctor uses radiofrequency or cryoablation energy to disrupt the electrical signals that cause an irregular heartbeat.

The procedure has an effectiveness rate of over 90% for some specific types of arrhythmia, but the rate varies depending on the condition. Whether cardiac ablation affects a person’s life expectancy depends on a range of factors, such as their overall health and response to treatment.

This article discusses how cardiac ablation can affect life expectancy, success rates for this procedure, and what a person can expect as they recover.

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Cardiac ablation is a procedure that treats symptoms of arrhythmias. It may extend a person’s life in some cases by correcting dangerous heart rhythm problems, such as atrial fibrillation (AFib).

Cardiac ablation itself may negatively affect life expectancy if a person experiences major complications. However, most procedures are effective, and death as a direct result of cardiac ablation is rare.

A 2019 study found that early death affected 0.46% of people in a representative sample of individuals who received cardiac ablation for AFib. This is roughly equivalent to 1 in 200.

The study defined early mortality as death during hospitalization or during hospitalization within 30 days of the procedure. However, a significant number of individuals who died within this time frame had other health conditions affecting their likelihood of survival.

Factors that contributed to a risk of mortality included:

People without these risk factors and who are undergoing treatment from experienced doctors may have less risk. Many catheter ablation procedures occur without serious complications and permanently treat arrhythmias.

Catheter ablation is the standard treatment for most types of arrhythmia and has an effectiveness rate of over 90% for some types of this heart issue. However, this varies significantly depending on the exact condition a person has and the type of cardiac ablation they undergo.

A 2022 meta-analysis found that catheter-based cardiac ablation for individuals with AFib resulted in fewer strokes, fewer instances of heart failure, and fewer deaths overall from any cause.

After catheter ablation, a person will need to stay in the hospital for at least a few hours. They will need to remain lying down to lower the risk of bleeding in the place where the doctors inserted the catheter.

After this time, the person will need to continue to rest in the hospital while their doctors monitor their heart and observe their reaction to the procedure. It is important to report any pain, swelling, or other symptoms during this time.

After leaving the hospital, a person can expect to return to most of their usual activities within a day or so. However, individuals need to discuss with their doctor when it is safe to resume:

  • driving
  • strenuous physical activity
  • lifting anything weighing more than 10 pounds
  • swimming, bathing, or otherwise submerging the incision site

A person will also need to keep the incision site clean and dry and may also need to take medications after the procedure.

A 2020 study states that many people with AFib find their ability to exercise improves after cardiac ablation, due to no longer having an arrhythmia.

However, it is important to avoid strenuous exercise in the days immediately following the procedure until a doctor advises it is safe to return to exercise.

After the initial recovery period, a person’s healthcare team may recommend gradually building up a regular exercise routine. Some may benefit from cardiac rehabilitation, which is a supervised program that provides:

  • exercise counseling and training
  • information about heart-healthy lifestyles
  • stress reduction

Between 20% and 50% of people who undergo an ablation procedure for AFib experience a recurrence of the condition at some point. When this happens, a doctor may choose to repeat ablation, depending on a person’s situation and overall health.

While recurrences and complications occur, cardiac ablation is often an effective treatment for heart arrhythmias and can cure these occurrences.

The long-term success rate for curing AFib is between 50% and 80%, including those who undergo multiple ablation procedures.

Cardiac ablation is a potential treatment for many heart arrhythmias. The technique’s effectiveness rate depends on the type of arrhythmia a person has. It treats the symptoms of arrhythmias and may extend someone’s life expectancy by treating dangerous heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation, in some cases.

The procedure’s effectiveness also depends on other factors, such as whether the person has other health conditions, how they respond to treatment, and whether it causes any complications. Most cardiac ablation procedures do not cause serious complications, but they are possible.

People with concerns about cardiac ablation can speak with a doctor about the benefits and risks of the procedure. They will be able to explain the likelihood of certain complications in each case.