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4 Top Questions About Radiofrequency Ablation for Afib Answered

If medications you’re taking for atrial fibrillation (afib) aren’t working anymore, there is another option: radiofrequency ablation.

In most patients, rapid electrical activity that starts in the pulmonary vein and spreads to the atrium of the heart triggers afib. Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure that applies electrical energy to the area around the pulmonary vein.

“What radiofrequency ablation does is create roadblocks at the pulmonary vein to shield the atrium from the electrical activity that causes afib,” says cardiologist Walid Saliba, MD, Medical Director of the Center for Atrial Fibrillation at Cleveland Clinic.

Although radiofrequency ablation has been used as a treatment method for afib since the late 1990s, it is now being more widely accepted as a first-line therapy, or first treatment.

“Traditionally, afib has been treated with medications to slow the heartbeat or antiarrhythmics to suppress the afib,” says Dr. Saliba. “But medications have limitations and also side effects, and they only work to a certain extent. The likelihood of a particular medication still working after one year is about 50 percent at best.”

Here are the answers to the most common questions about radiofrequency ablation for afib.