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UT Southwestern Medical Center offers patients exceptional care for irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias) that are difficult to treat. Our highly trained cardiologists and electrophysiologists combine their expertise with the latest equipment and techniques for cardiac ablation. 

Advanced Techniques for Cardiac Ablation

The heart’s rhythm (heartbeat) is controlled by electrical signals that travel through the heart. When the electrical signals are abnormal, they can cause irregular heartbeats. 

Cardiac ablation is a minimally invasive procedure done with a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) to access the heart and apply heat or extreme cold to create scars on heart tissue in the treated areas or to destroy tiny portions of tissue in those areas. The treatment disrupts the abnormal electrical signals traveling through the heart, allowing the heart’s electrical system to function normally again.

For treatment, our cardiologists use advanced techniques such as pressure-sensitive catheters for heightened precision and, depending on the patient’s specific condition, one of two methods for ablation:

  • Radiofrequency ablation, which uses heat generated by electricity
  • Cryoablation, which uses extreme cold

Our state-of-the-art ablation labs feature 3D electroanatomic mapping to provide detailed, real-time visualization of arrhythmias during diagnostic and interventional procedures. This advanced technology significantly reduces our patients’ radiation exposure during evaluation and treatments.

Cardiac Ablation Sparkle Map

The patient had ventricular tachycardia that originated from the outside surface or “epicardium” of his heart. UT Southwestern surgeons performed a special procedure to place catheters in the space surrounding his heart and recorded electrical signals from the epicardium. UT Southwestern was the first center in North Texas to use a new mapping catheter (Abbott HD Grid) for epicardial VT mapping and ablation.  

A “sparkle map” demonstrates an area of abnormal electrical activity on the outside of the heart during normal rhythm. The gray colored area corresponds with dead scar tissue and the red area represents damaged muscle that has delayed electrical activity compared to the healthy (purple) areas. There is a “channel” that crosses the scar and serves as a connection for abnormal electrical activity. 

Cardiac Ablation Propagation Map

A “propagation map” uses the channel for reentry or circular activity similar to a rotor. By identifying and targeting this specific area, we were able to immediately terminate the arrhythmia within seconds by ablation. The patient no longer suffers from VT and was able to stop using the drugs causing side effects.

Conditions Treated With Cardiac Ablation

Cardiac ablation treats arrhythmias that are not being properly controlled by medications. Some types of arrhythmia can be life-threatening; the types of arrhythmias and other heart conditions we treat with cardiac ablation include:

What to Expect

Pre-Procedure Details

The surgeon provides specific instructions to the patient before the ablation procedure and explains risks such as bleeding, infection, or adverse reaction to anesthesia.

Patients also meet with the anesthesiologist before the surgery to review their medical history. Patients should not eat after midnight the night before the surgery.

On the day of surgery, a nurse reviews the patient’s charts to make sure there are no problems.

The anesthesiologist then starts a local anesthesia IV, and the patient is taken to the operating room. The procedure begins once the anesthesia is in effect. 

Procedure Details

The cardiologist makes a tiny incision in the groin or wrist to access a vein or artery and inserts a thin, flexible tube or pacing electrode (catheter). The cardiologist guides the catheter to the heart, then places small electrodes in various areas of the heart to find the source(s) of the irregular heartbeat. When the areas are located, the cardiologist uses the catheter to send heat or cold energy to the areas to scar or destroy them.

When the procedure is complete, all catheters and guidewires are removed, and the small incision is closed with stitches.

Post-Procedure Details

After the procedure, patients are taken to the postoperative recovery area and monitored. Pain is likely, and pain medication is given as needed. 

The length of the hospital stay depends on how quickly the patient is able to recover and perform some physical activity.

Clinical Trials

As one of the nation’s top academic medical centers, UT Southwestern offers a number of clinical trials aimed at improving the outcomes of patients with cardiovascular disease.

Our Heart Rhythm Management team is involved in numerous trials of new treatments and devices, which means our patients have the first available access to novel technologies such as next-generation pacemakers and defibrillators.