Cardiac Ablation Procedure | MedStar Health

Using heat or cold to destroy heart tissue causing abnormal heart rhythms

When the electrical flow of the heart is blocked or experiences a short circuit, you can develop an irregular heart rhythm called an arrhythmia. In some cases, the most effective treatment is to destroy the tissue housing the short circuit so that the heart can beat normally again.

Our Electrophysiology Program  has the expertise and technology to treat even the most complex arrhythmias. We are a national leader in performing cryoablation procedures for atrial fibrillation, which use cold, rather than heat, to disable damaged tissue and reduce the risk of impacting healthy heart tissue and surrounding structures.

Our doctors perform various types of ablation, including:

  • Atrial fibrillation ablation: We use extreme heat or cold to destroy the tissue in the upper chamber of your heart where the abnormal heartbeat starts.

  • Pulmonary vein isolation: We create scar tissue in the upper left chamber of your heart to prevent electrical signals coming from the pulmonary veins.

What to expect during cardiac ablation?

While cardiac ablation can be performed as open-heart surgery, it’s more commonly done as a minimally invasive cardiac catheterization procedure. For many types of arrhythmias, catheter ablation is successful in 90 to 98 percent of cases, eliminating the need for open-heart surgery or long-term drug therapies.

You may be given a sedative to help you relax, but you will remain awake throughout the procedure. A local anesthetic will be injected to numb the area in the arm or groin where the doctor will insert a thin, flexible tube known as a catheter. They will guide the catheter through a blood vessel to the heart. Small electrical impulses will be sent through an electrode catheter to identify the abnormal tissue causing the arrhythmia. The doctor will send a mild, painless burst of heat or cold through the catheter to destroy the tissue causing your abnormal heart rhythm.

The procedure takes 2 to 4 hours, and you’ll likely be able to go home the same day.


Arrhythmia (Heart Rhythm Disorders)

An arrhythmia is an abnormal or irregular heartbeat caused by a disturbance in the electrical impulses that coordinate your heart rate. This can cause your heart to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly.

Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC)

Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) is a rare genetic abnormality of the heart muscle.

Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is a type of arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat) in which the heart’s two upper chambers do not beat in sync with the two lower chambers.

Atrial Flutter

A type of irregular heart rhythm in which the upper chambers of the heart (atria) beat too quickly.

Catecholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia (CPVT)

Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT) is a genetic condition that mutates certain proteins, leading to an irregular or abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) during physical activity or emotional stress.

Ventricular Fibrillation

Ventricular fibrillation is a type of heart rhythm disorder that prevents the heart from pumping blood. This is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate emergency care.

Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) Syndrome

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, or WPW syndrome, is a problem with the way electrical signals travel through the heart.



An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.

Event Monitors

An event monitor is a small device that records the heart’s electrical activity. It’s similar to an electrocardiogram, but where an electrocardiogram takes place over a few minutes, an event monitor measures heart rhythms over a much longer time.

Holter Monitors

A Holter monitor is a small device that records the heart’s electrical activity. It’s similar to an electrocardiogram, but whereas an electrocardiogram records over a few minutes, a Holter monitor records over the course of a day or two.

Loop Recorder

A loop recorder is a device that’s implanted underneath the skin of your chest to record your heart rhythm for up to 3 years.

Electrophysiology Testing

Electrophysiology testing is used to evaluate the cause and location of an abnormal heartbeat (known as an arrhythmia).

Additional information

Electrophysiology Program

We are leaders in developing and using the latest procedures and technologies to treat heart rhythm disorders, and our cardiac electrophysiology laboratory is one of the most sophisticated in North America.

Ask MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute

Have general questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at If you have clinically-specific questions, please contact your physician’s office.