My ablation experience

I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation in 2010 (then aged 33). For three years I was on Flecainide, Diltiazem and a small dose of aspirin, which worked fine and I had no symptoms. Then in May this year I had renewed symptoms of fast rate, breathlessness on minimal exercise, etc. These were quite nasty and lasted for a few weeks. My cardiologist determined I had had a "breakthrough" which meant the drugs weren't as effective as before, and because of my relatively young age he decided an ablation was the best course of action. So I finally had my first one four days ago. It's too early to tell of the success of it (although my surgeon is very confident), but I thought I would let you all know how it went to allay any fears.

I went in at midday on Tuesday after 4 hours of fasting. The nurses and doctor told me what was to happen, which was a TOE (transoesophageal echocardiogram), and then an ablation using both radio and freezing energy. They decided to use both radio and freezing at the same time to increase the chances of a first-time success. I was told that I would have a local anaesthetic in the leg and some sedation. I was also told that I may get hiccups towards the end of the procedure, which is due to them testing a nerve in the chest which can become damaged during the procedure.

At 13:45 I went down the "lab" as they call it. It was much more like a lab than an operating theatre actually - there were about 10 computer screens in there and a massive plasma screen, and very little surgical equipment! The surgeon told me he was about to sedate me, and he injected something (I think Rohypnol!) into the canula in my hand. After about a minute he asked me if anything was happening, and I said not yet. He said he guaranteed it would work, and that is the last thing I remember. I wasn't just sedated, I was totally asleep. It felt to me exactly like the general anaesthetic I'd had before for an unrelated operation.

I woke up later with the hiccups in the middle of the operation. I was not in the slightest bit anxious about this, but I wanted them to know I was awake just in case, so I asked the time. They told me it was 430pm, and I went back to sleep! I woke again with the hiccups a bit later, and asked the time again, and they said it was 530pm and the operation was nearly over. I don't think I went back to sleep this time.

I was wheeled out of the room and back in my own room at 545pm. I was extremely cold and shivering at this point, which they said was because of the freezing energy that had been used. I was warm again within minutes. From then on I was in and out of sleep (mostly in!) until 8am the next morning. I'd had some quite heavy sedation and apparently some morphine so this was no surprise. I even fell asleep in the middle of talking to a nurse, and apparently in the middle of trying to do a wee into the bottle whilst on my bed!

The hardest part is the lying very flat for hours after the operation. Despite being mostly asleep, I still had my canula in, a 24-hour ECG machine, and was starting to get sore on various parts of my body. You have to lie very flat to let the leg heal properly. I was allowed to get up to the loo at 1130pm, and my leg did bleed, but it stopped after compression for a few minutes and the nurses weren't worried.

I left hospital about 10am the next morning, and have rested at home since. I do have slight soreness all over the chest, both front and back. I do also have a sore leg, although that's much better 4 days later. The worst part is the sore throat and sore neck muscles, which I think must be the TOE beforehand, but it's really no worse than if you sleep badly. It's slightly uncomfortable to lie flat as it feels strange on my heart, but sitting up is fine and I've slept like a log every night, presumably because I still have the effects of the drugs in my body.

I'm desperate to get back to exercise; because of my young age I want to prove I'm still healthy I suppose. I have been told to start with a gentle walk, then maybe a run after two weeks (so that the leg has healed fully), then gradually progress to the more difficult stuff. It seems that there is no danger at all to the heart in doing the harder exercise, they are more worried about the leg bleeding.

Overall I just wanted to say that my experience was that the procedure was quite simple, and not frightening at all. People about to have it should not worry too much. I was lucky enough to go private with my company, so I hope everyone on the NHS has as good an experience as I did!

Good luck everyone


14 Replies

  • Thank you Dean

    That was very detailed and I am sure very reassuring to those who are waiting for the ablations now.

    Please do keep us informed of progress

    Be well


  • Thanks for sharing, very useful.

  • Hi Dean,

    That is a great account. It's always good to hear how procedures have gone especially for those on the waiting lists. Anything at all that allays fear is always welcome.

    Hope you are soon able to prove to everyone that you are fit and healthy, I'm old enough to be your Grandma and still try to prove this everyday! First ablation due in the autumn.

    Best Wishes


  • Many thanks for this Dean. I have been told as soon as I get a break though of AF I can have the ablation done, the thought of the procedure really scares me, so it was really interesting reading about your experiences. It would be interesting to know where you had this done? My big problem is the laying down flat and having a pee - unfortunately the female anatomy does not allow us to use bottles! Wendy.

  • Wendy - I had it done at the London Bridge Hospital. I'm lucky to have private healthcare with my company, but I know my surgeon does NHS ablations too. I don't think I'm allowed to name him on this forum but I know he's the countrywide (if not worldwide) authority on AF, and he was certainly very impressive to me.

    I promise you that you shouldn't be scared - it feels scary because of the fact it's on your heart, but it's very routine for the doctors these days and for me passed with very little discomfort. I'm afraid I can't help with the peeing part for females...but I'm sure they have a solution!

  • Thanks for that Dean, I was at Guys last week and have just checked the internet and the Professor I saw also works at the London Bridge, so fingers crossed he is the same person! These forums really are very good and help you to understand first hand on what can happen. Thanks. Wendy.

  • I thought I answer the female "pee" problem. Nobody tells you of the things you really need to know and often these things cause more anxiety than the procedure itself. The ablation for me lasted 6 hours,I think that was longer than most, and then after I had to lie still and flat for the next 8.5 hours. This then necessitated 2 loo stops. Very undignified but the nurses slip a bedpan under you and that's it, not even allowed to slightly sit up either and as you say we are not built that way, so be prepared for minor accidents it happens to everybody- well ladies anyway- and there is no option so just don't be embarrassed ,remember it's the same for all of us and the nurses (poor souls ) are quite used to it.


  • Many thanks for this Fi, it has been one of the things worrying me and I had not heard anyone else mention it. I suppose it is something that is not talked about , even though we do it everyday! - thank goodness for this forum, I hope this helps other ladies with the same concerns. Thanks again. Wendy

  • Glad to help. It was something that worried me as well.


  • Wendy - the idea of weeing in my bed was the least of my worries personally, but as a young man I'm probably the least concerned about dignity of anyone! But what I would say is that if you have the procedure, you will certainly be less concerned about this aspect at the time. I think you will be more concerned about going back to sleep!

  • Bob's Law of Maximum Embarrassment states that the more embarrassing the the procedure then the more attractive will be the doctor or nurse of the opposite gender who does it. This was discovered whilst going through surgery for prostate cancer and having a catheter for some time which required regular flushing! In the end you just don't care!


    PS I have seen devices, anatomically shaped for ladies to fit to bottles. Not sure how well they work whilst lying flat.

  • Thanks for all that information Dean, hope you are back at the gym soon, fit as a fiddle very soon.

    I "struggling" with AF and flutter and sometimes with the least physical excision I end up having to get myself into AE to stop a rapid pulse rate which if untreated can continue for over an hour

    The cardiologist suggests an ablation but he indicated it can be a bit of more difficult feeding a catheter to the area to ablate in my case as they found a defect known as PERSISTENT LEFT SUPERIOR VENA CAVA..

    Would be interested to know if there is anyone else with PLSVC on this site who has undergone an ablation ?

  • Thanks for the blow by blow account of your Ablation procedure.

    My AF was diagnosed in October '10 at the London Bridge Hospital (private), and I had my Ablation in August '12, at Barts on the NHS.

    The 5 hour operation achieved complete isolation of the Pulmonary Veins using RF, and apart from a minor 'glitch' in the last 10 minutes when a re-connection had to be removed, I was completely recovered in the ward later the same evening. Sufficiently recovered to text my daughters, to arrange collection around 2pm the following day. I have been fit and healthy since. Best wishes to all about to share the same experience.

  • Davery, can I ask which doctor you saw was it Dr Murgatroyd? Ive just been told I have to see him to consider the ablation procedure and am very anxious ! thanks

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