Cardiac Catheter Cryoablation
by Elizabeth A. Peterson, MFA
Cryoablation uses extremely cold temperature to destroy cells. Cardiac catheter cryoablation is used to destroy selected heart cells.
Reasons for Procedure TOP
This procedure is done to disable heart cells that are creating an irregular heartbeat called arrhythmias. After the procedure, normal heart rhythm should be restored.
Possible Complications TOP
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have cardiac catheter cryoablation, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
Your level of risk may be related to the specific arrhythmia that you have and any underlying medical conditions.
What to Expect TOP
Prior to Procedure
Your doctor will likely do the following:
Leading up to your procedure:
A local anesthetic will be given by needle. It will numb the area where a tube called a catheter will be inserted. You will also receive a mild sedative through an IV in your arm. This will help you to relax during the procedure.
Description of Procedure TOP
The special ablation catheter will be inserted into a blood vessel in the groin, upper thigh area, arm, or wrist. The area will be cleaned. It will also be numbed with anesthesia.
The catheter will be passed up the blood vessel to your heart. Your doctor will be able to see the catheter with a special x-ray machine. It will be seen on a nearby screen.
Your doctor will locate the origin of your arrhythmia. This will be done by setting off the arrhythmia with a special catheter tip. When the location is found, the area will be cooled with the tip of the catheter. If it is the right area, the cold will temporarily stop the arrhythmia. If it is not the right area, the tip is removed and the tissue will not have any damage.
When the right area is found, the tip of the ablation catheter will be cooled down to -70°C. This extreme cold will freeze and scar the heart tissue. The damage will eliminate the arrhythmia. Your doctor will then try to reproduce the arrhythmia. The tip will be applied again until the arrhythmia can no longer be reproduced.
Immediately After Procedure TOP
You will be moved to a recovery room. The staff will observe you for a few hours for symptoms, rhythm problems, and bleeding from the catheter sites. You may feel groggy from the sedative.
You will likely need to lie still and flat on your back for a period of time. A pressure dressing may be placed over the area where the catheter was inserted to help prevent bleeding. It is important to follow directions.
How Long Will It Take? TOP
3-6 hours or longer
How Much Will It Hurt? TOP
You may feel some minor discomfort as the catheter is inserted. You may feel light-headed, experience a rapid heartbeat, or experience chest pain during the freezing process.
Average Hospital Stay TOP
Most patients stay overnight for further observation. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if complications arise.
Post-procedure Care TOP
At the Hospital
When you return home after the procedure, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
This procedure has an extremely high success rate and a low recurrence and complication rate. But, if you:
Call Your Doctor TOP
After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Women's Health Matters
Ablation for arrhythmias. American Heart Association website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated November 8, 2012. Accessed August 8, 2013.
Catheter ablation of arrhythmias. Circulation. 2002;106:e203.
Cryoablation for atrial fibrillation in association with other cardiac surgery. National Institute for Clinical Excellence website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed August 8, 2013.
6/3/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us : Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, Kelly S, Wu P, Ebbert JO. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med . 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.