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A good shock to the heart

If your heart skipped a beat, you probably wouldn’t notice. But if your heart constantly skipped or added several beats, then you might feel dizzy, weak or fatigued.

Now, many people with abnormal heart rhythms, or heart arrhythmias, can be treated faster and more easily thanks to a nonsurgical procedure called radiofrequency catheter ablation, or RCA. Unlike previous treatments that involved long recovery periods or bothersome side effects, RCA can be done under local anesthesia and gets patients back on their feet within a few days.

Here’s how it works: Normally, an intricate electrical conduction system travels between the heart’s upper chambers (the atria) and lower chambers (the ventricles), triggering regular heartbeats. But in arrhythmia patients, an abnormal path disrupts the flow of electricity between the chambers, causing the heartbeat to go awry.

In RCA, the doctor first determines the exact location of the abnormal pathway. He or she can accomplish this by using a procedure called electrophysiology to map the traveling electrical impulses. To perform RCA, the doctor inserts a catheter close to the pathway and then passes radiofrequency energy through it. The tip of the catheter heats up, destroying the abnormal tissue.

RCA is successful in more than 90 percent of cases. If you have irregular heart rhythms, ask your doctor if RCA is right for you.