Some people experience leg pain after a heart ablation procedure at the insertion site of the catheter. Alternatively, they may have an allergic reaction to the medication they receive alongside the procedure.

A heart ablation involves a doctor using a catheter, which is a thin tube, to stop abnormal electrical signals from traveling through the heart and causing an irregular heartbeat. They will pass the catheter through a person’s blood vessels until it reaches the heart.

The catheter delivers radiofrequency waves, extreme cold, or laser light from a machine to make a scar on the heart. This scar stops abnormal electrical signals from causing arrhythmias.

Read on to learn more about why some people experience leg pain after heart ablation.

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Some people experience unwanted complications or side effects after the procedure, such as leg pain. However, catheter ablation has a 90% success rate, and complications are rare.

Risks during the procedure and afterward include bleeding, infection, blood vessel damage, heart damage, arrhythmias, and blood clots.

For instance, a person may have pain or bleed at the site where the doctor inserted the catheter or a reaction to the medication they received after the surgery. The doctor will usually insert the catheter in the neck or the groin.

A person may experience bruising around the insertion site for a few days. They should contact a doctor immediately if the discomfort turns into pain and swelling.

In rare cases, the procedure can also cause blood clots in the femoral vein. These are known as venous thromboembolism (VTE). A 2020 study also reported a relatively high occurrence of venous bleeding following heart ablation.

While this complication is rarely fatal, it can significantly impact a person’s quality of life due to fear and discomfort in relation to bleeding and restriction of movement.

Postcardiac injury syndrome (PCIS) is a rare but significant complication of radiofrequency catheter ablation.

The body of a person with PCIS develops an inflammatory reaction to the heart muscle damage resulting from the insertion of the catheter. The clinical signs of this include:

  • a buildup of fluid in the pericardium (the protective, fluid-filled sac that surrounds the heart) that puts pressure on the heart muscle
  • fluid buildup on the lungs
  • lack of oxygen in the blood

Associated symptoms include:

  • chest pain
  • fever
  • a systemic inflammatory response

The chest pain usually resolves on its own after 7–10 days.

A person should immediately tell a doctor or nurse if they notice any swelling, pain, or bleeding at the catheter insertion site. They should also contact a doctor if they develop chest pain.

Once a person is ready to go home from the hospital, a doctor will likely advise them to rest for the remainder of the week. They may need to take a few days off work, especially if they have a physically demanding job.

A person may also need to gradually build up the amount of exercise they do, particularly if they were relatively inactive before the ablation procedure. Typically, a person can expect to be walking comfortably by the end of the second week after a heart ablation procedure.

It is important to remember that every person is different, with potentially different needs in terms of recovery time. The procedure can leave some people feeling tired for several weeks.

It is common for a person to experience fibrillation in the three months following catheter ablation for atrial fibrillation. This is an irregular and fast heartbeat.

If atrial fibrillation does not resolve on its own, a person should contact their doctor or go to the emergency room.

Other reasons for a person to contact a doctor include the following:

  • the area around the insertion site becomes bruised
  • the insertion point begins to swell or leak fluid
  • they feel nauseous or excessively sweaty
  • they have a fast or irregular heartbeat
  • they feel short of breath
  • they feel dizzy or lightheaded and need to lie down

A person should seek immediate medical attention if they experience pain in their legs, arms, or hands. They should also contact a doctor if these go blue or feel cold, numb, or tingly.

They should also call 911 if:

  • the insertion site swells very quickly
  • bleeding from the insertion site does not slow down when they press it firmly
  • they feel pain or discomfort in their chest that radiates into their neck, jaw, or arms
  • their face droops, an arm gets weak, and they have difficulty speaking

During a heart ablation procedure, a surgeon inserts a catheter into a person’s groin and through an artery to reach the heart. The tip of the catheter then delivers radiofrequency radiation, extreme cold, or laser light from a machine to a targeted area of the heart.

Leg pain can result from the puncture wound at the catheter insertion site, as well as venous bleeding, a blood clot, or an allergic reaction to medications.

Additionally, a person may experience temporary chest pain due to injury to their heart muscle.