Recovering from Ablation
Have you been told that you need an ablation? Worried about what to expect? I wanted to put together a few key points for you to know so that you understand why you may need an ablation and what to expect while you recover.
Firstly, what is an ablation and why may you need one?
An ablation is a medical procedure that occurs in a catheter laboratory or operating theatre and is used for people with arrhythmias. An arrhythmia is any type of heart beat that does not follow the usual normal electrical conduction of the heart. You may have this arrhythmia all the time, some of the time, or not know that you have it at all but it has shown up on a cardiac monitor. The most common arrhythmias that people have an ablation for are Atrial Fibrillation (AF) and Atrial Flutter. It can also be used to map (find) and treat other arrhythmias like ventricular ectopics and Supa Ventricular Tachycardia (SVT).
An ablation is basically a blast of heat or cold to ‘cut off’ or remove electrical pathways in the heart that should not be there, thus ‘treating’ the arrhythmia. It is often offered if you are suffering from symptoms like breathlessness, sleeping difficulties, palpitations and the arrhythmia is affecting your quality of life.
The benefits of having an ablation vary from person to person but can include:
- Return your heart to normal sinus rhythm
- Reducing your symptoms
- Reducing the anti-arrhythmia medication you are taking
- Generally make you feel better
- Reduce your risk of stroke
After the initial recovery period, you should be able to return to your normal activity after a recovery period. You may find that you are able to exercise more and with less breathlessness as the heart is more efficient when it is in sinus rhythm.
Ablation cannot cure AF; it is possible that it may return. It is difficult to determine if or when it will return. You can reduce the risk of it returning by not smoking, avoiding alcohol, taking the tablets your consultant prescribes, adopting a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Unfortunately for some people the heart will go back into AF regardless of adopting a healthy lifestyle and may require a further ablation.
WHAT TO EXPECT AFTER THE PROCEDURE
You should expect to have a very small puncture wound in one or both groins. You may go home from hospital with a small dressing over the wound – this can be removed after 2-3 days. Some hospitals do not put in a stitch so make sure you ask if you need to remove any! If there are no stitches (which is most common in the UK) there is a small risk of bleeding from the site.
Straight after the procedure, you will need to lie flat for several hours to minimise the risk of bleeding from the groin. After you’ve been told you can get up, you can sit in bed, walk to the toilet, shower etc. To prevent bleeding from the groin wound, you should do very little activity for 3-4 days after the procedure. Treat it like you have the flu – watch some movies and generally don’t do much. After 7 days you can return to your normal daily activities eg walking, working, light housework etc. However this should be light activity. Do not exercise or put any strain on the leg for 2 weeks after the procedure.
You’re bound to feel some soreness in your chest immediately after the procedure and will receive some pain relief whilst you are in hospital. It is important to take the pain relief regularly so that you are able to get up and about as well as move and cough. Most people report minimal soreness for a few days after the procedure, which may be relieved with paracetemol or another painkiller your doctor has recommended. You may experience some pain in the surrounding muscles, such as your neck, arms and back. This is normal and usually eases off over 1 to 2 weeks.
As the local anaesthetic wears off from your groin wound, you may feel quite sore. Again, paracetemol may help with this. It is normal to see some bruising and discolouration of the skin, which will change in the days and first few weeks after the procedure. Your nurse should inform you about what to look out for and what is normal bruising.
You may also feel some palpitations or ‘jumpiness’ in the heart. This is normal and it is a sign that the heart is settling down after the procedure. The palpitations can last for around 1 month after the procedure. Until the 1-3 month mark, it is difficult to tell if the procedure has been a success as you may still have some AF while the heart settles.
Your body is using a lot of energy to heal itself, so you will feel more tired than normal – sometimes it can come upon you suddenly but don’t feel that it’s going to be that way forever. Some people feel back to their normal selves within a few days, others take a few weeks. As your physical activity levels improve you will steadily start to feel less tired. Take regular rests and don’t overdo it. Taking a 30 minute nap in the afternoon for a few weeks is normal and can really help you to get through the day if you need it.
If you feel upset or emotional in the days and weeks after your operation, don’t worry – this is a perfectly normal reaction which many people experience. Talk to your doctor if your mood remains low or your appetite does not return after a couple of weeks. Your body has been through something big and everyone reacts differently. If you don’t feel yourself or notice you feel depressed or anxious talk to your GP and ask to see a counsellor. Tell others how you are feeling. They may not know what to do to help so if you need space, tell them. If you need some company and a distraction, let them know.
Want to know what helped others to recover? Download my free ebook – 30 Tips To Help You on The Road to Recovery – written by other Hearties!
Returning to exercise
It is important to wait at least 2 weeks after the procedure before you exercise, due to the risk of bleeding from the groin puncture site. As with any illness or time away from exercise, things won’t feel the same at the start. Here are some key tips I’ve put together for you.
- Start out with slow walking, building up over the next few weeks back to the distance you were doing.
- Try light cycling or any aerobic activity that you enjoy.
- Before ANY exercise, ensure you perform a warm up of at least 15 minutes to gradually bring the heart rate up to a working rate. Think of your heart rate like a car engine – drive in gear 1 and 2 for some time before going to gear 3 or 4. Save gear 5 for when your fitness is back up.
- Never exercise when hungover, severely ill, very tired or dehydrated as those conditions can increase your risk of AF.
- Most exercise is safe after the recovery period.
- In general, the types of exercise that put the most strain on your heart are very heavy weight lifting, isometric contractions where you hold your breath and very long periods of high intensity exercise.
Not sure what type of exercise is suitable for you? I can develop a programme that is tailored to your goals. I can develop a personalised programme specific to you, your condition, your surgery and you current medications. Let me know if you’d like more information about seeing me for an exercise programme.