Ablation is a medical technique used to remove tissue from the body through radio-wave frequencies. It is used to treat many different medical problems. Among its many applications are cardiac ablation, endometrial ablation, surface ablation, and liver tumor removal.
Cardiac ablation is used to eliminate heart arrhythmia caused by improper tissue arrangement or placement within the heart. Tissue can block the regular electrical signals the heart sends, causing arrhythmia. In some cases, previous surgical repair of the heart can lead over time to a “short circuit” in the heart.
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An electrophysiologist, a cardiologist who specializes in the study and treatment of unusual rhythm patterns, performs ablation with a catheter. The catheter is usually inserted through an artery in the thigh and threaded up to the heart tissue that is causing the problems. Radiofrequent energy is then used to destroy the tissue.
This type of ablation has a great deal of success, but implantation of a pacemaker or defibrillator may also be necessary. Cardiac ablation is used to treat atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, and some forms of tachycardia. It has over a 90% success rate with no further interventions required.
Endometrial ablation is used to treat women who suffer excessive bleeding during their menstrual cycle, or those who have endometriosis. It is used in preference to a hysterectomy, but since it destroys the lining of the uterus, it frequently results in infertility. In this type of ablation, a small camera on a hysteroscope is used to view the uterine walls. The uterus is filled with liquid, and an instrument that generates heat, which is attached to the hysteroscope, is employed to destroy the uterine lining.
Endometrial ablation is an outpatient procedure and takes less than an hour to perform. It is performed while the patient is sedated, but not under general anesthesia, unless it is combined with several procedures. Discomfort after the procedure lasts for only a few days.
Newer ablation techniques are used in conjunction with or in place of Lasik® eye surgery. This procedure is called surface ablation, and removes tissue directly at the corneal surface, as opposed to under the cornea. This procedure is fairly new, but early studies suggest it may have a better outcome than Lasik®, in terms of the eye’s ability to refract light.
Ablation is also used to remove tumors in the liver. Clinical studies have evaluated the effectiveness of ablation for tumors that originate in the liver, as well as those that have metastasized from the colon. Removal of benign liver tumors has seen the most success, and generally the tumor or tumors must be relatively small for the procedure to work. In the future, scientists hope to be able to improve on this technology to address larger tumors and those that are malignant.