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General Medical Questions
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Question : I have supraventricular tachycardia and have had to go to the emergency room three times as my heart rate raced to 220 beats per minute. My doctor recommends an ablation procedure. What does that do? Are there any other options I could explore?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Thomas H. Lee, M.D., is the chief executive officer for Partners Community HealthCare Inc. He is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is an internist and cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. Lee is the chairman of the Cardiovascular Measurement Assessment Panel of the National Committee for Quality Assurance.

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February 23, 2011
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A:

An ablation procedure is used to destroy a small amount of tissue in your heart. This makes it impossible or difficult for your tachycardia to recur.

Tachycardia is a rhythm disorder in which the heart beats faster than it should. "Supraventricular" tells the location. It means "above the ventricles," which are the lower chambers of the heart. So your disorder is located in one of the two atria, which are the upper chambers.

This procedure might sound drastic, but it is being done every day in hospitals with active electrophysiology services. Here's the thinking behind the procedure.

Your tachycardia is probably due to an occasional "loop" of electrical activity. It gets started, and every time it goes around the loop, it causes a heart beat. The ablation procedure identifies that loop in the upper chambers of your heart, and then disrupts it with a small jolt of energy delivered through a special catheter.

Can there be complications? Sure, that is true whenever a catheter is inserted into your body and into your heart. There can be perforations of the heart that require surgery to repair. But the risk of these complications is quite low. This procedure allows many patients avoid a lifetime of medications and/or frequent emergency department visits. So it is worth considering.

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