What Is an Ablation?

Procedures that remove a layer of tissue

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An ablation is a medical procedure that removes a layer of tissue, either by surgery or with less invasive techniques, such as laser treatment. It's used to treat a variety of medical conditions—from nearsightedness to certain heart issues—as well as address certain cosmetic concerns, such as uneven texture.

Unlike a resection, which involves the partial or complete removal of an organ, an ablation removes a layer (or layers) of tissue to restore normal function. In some cases, ablation destroys problem tissues. In others, it encourages tissue regrowth.

This article reviews the possible uses for ablation and how each procedure is performed.

Surgeons performing surgery in operating room
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Surface Ablation

Surface ablation can be performed on the skin, eye, or other superficial tissues. Many procedures are used for many different purposes.

Skin

Surface ablation of the skin involves the removal of a layer of tissue to:

  • Treat discoloration
  • Improve skin texture
  • Remove lesions (wounds), warts, or tumors on the surface of your skin

When used for cosmetic purposes to induce skin regeneration or repair, it is referred to as dermabrasion. It's typically performed by a dermatologist in a medical office. Techniques include:

  • Laser ablation: A laser is used for superficial (surface) lesions or discoloration.
  • Chemoablation: Topical acids are used to peel skin or remove warts.
  • Cryoablation: Cold gases like liquid nitrogen or argon freeze the skin.
  • Fulguration: High-frequency electrical currents remove small lesions or warts.

Recap

Surface ablation can be used to help improve skin's appearance or to treat lesions or warts. It removes a layer of skin to help it regenerate or grow new tissue.

Eye

Eye laser treatments used to treat nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism are another form of surface ablation.

The technique, also known as Lasik surgery, removes the surface cells of the cornea. The cornea is the clear part of your eye that covers the iris and pupil and allows light into the eye. Lasik surgery can reshape the cornea to correct your vision.

Eye laser treatments are performed by ophthalmologists (eye surgeons) in medical facilities.

Ear, Nose, and Throat

Surface ablation can also be applied to otolaryngologic procedures, which are those that involve the ear, nose, or throat.

One procedure strips away excess soft palate tissue on the roof of your mouth to treat snoring or sleep apnea. Other procedures may be performed on the sinuses, tonsils, and thyroid nodules.

Cardiac Ablation

Cardiac ablation is a technique usually used to correct problems with your heart rhythm (arrhythmias). The procedure destroys heart tissue in order to block specific nerve pathways. This stops the electrical signals that trigger arrhythmias.

Cardiac ablation is typically performed by cardiologists in a hospital setting. They insert a thin, flexible tube called a catheter through a vein or artery in the groin. Then they thread the tube up to the heart. Energy is used to either freeze or burn the area of tissue.

Commonly referred to as a catheter ablation, this technique can be used to treat arrhythmias of both the atria (upper chambers) or ventricles (lower chambers) of the heart.

It includes:

  • Atrial flutter ablation (involving the atria)
  • Pulmonary vein isolation (involving the atria)
  • Supraventricular tachycardia ablation (involving the atria)
  • Ventricular tachycardia ablation (involving the ventricles)

A similar technique can be used when arterial blockages don't respond to standard balloon angioplasty. Known as rotoatherectomy, a tiny, diamond-tipped drill removes fatty deposits and restores blood flow.

Recap

Cardiac ablation removes specific heart tissue to treat heart rhythm problems. It's performed using a catheter that's inserted in a vein or artery and threaded up to the heart.

Endometrial Ablation

If Endometrial ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that destroys the lining of the uterus (endometrium). The goal is to reduce or stop heavy menstrual bleeding. This procedure is typically performed by a gynecologist in a medical facility.

For all types of endometrial ablations, instruments are inserted through the vagina and into the uterus. Several techniques are used, including:

  • High-energy radiofrequency: An expanded mesh delivers an electrical current created by radio waves to destroy the lining.
  • Thermal balloon ablation: A catheter is inserted in the uterus with a balloon at the end. The balloon is filled with fluid that's 190 degrees F to get rid of the lining.
  • Microwave endometrial ablation (MEA): Microwave energy travels into the uterus through a thin probe to destroy the lining.
  • Cryoablation: A probe chilled to -4 degree F is used to freeze the lining.

Endometrial ablation isn't a form of birth control or sterilization. You still ovulate afterward and pregnancy is possible, though unlikely because the fertilized egg doesn't have the endometrium to implant in.

You shouldn't have an endometrial ablation if you want to have children in the future. If you do get pregnant after an ablation, it can put you at a higher risk of ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage. Your baby could be at higher risk for death either before or after birth as well.

Your doctor can review options such as the various forms of birth control and sterilization surgery with you to see what might suit you best.

Recap

Endometrial ablation helps stop heavy menstrual bleeding by destroying the lining of the uterus. You should only have the procedure if you don't want children in the future. You can still get pregnant after the procedure, though your risk of complications will be increased.

Other Ablation Procedures

Ablation has many other uses as well, including:

  • Bone marrow ablation: Commonly used to remove bone marrow in advance of a bone marrow transplant. It's performed with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.
  • Ablative brain surgery: Used to treat certain neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease and cluster headaches.
  • Venous ablation: Removal of the saphenous vein, which runs the length of your lower leg, to eliminate varicose veins. It can also help venous reflux, a condition where blood reverses back down the legs instead of toward the heart.

Summary

Ablation is a procedure that removes a layer of tissue to treat many different medical issues. It can treat minor surface issues, such as removing warts on your skin, as well as more serious conditions, such as fixing heart rhythm problems.

It may also be used for cosmetic requests, such as improving skin texture and discoloration.

A Word From Verywell

Most types of ablation can be used for multiple purposes. The preparation and recovery can be different for each of them.

Be sure your practitioner goes over these issues with you so you know what to expect.

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12 Sources
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