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What is the history of medical ablation?

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Medical ablation using radiofrequencies was first described in 1891 by physicist Jacques-Arsene d'Arsonval, according to an article published in the Seminars in Interventional Radiology journal. Catheter ablation was first performed in 1981 by Melvin Scheinman. Initially used to treat heart irregularities, both procedures are now used to correct tissue defects in various parts of the body, including the liver, bone and brain.

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Jacques d-Arsonval discovered the ability to raise the temperature of tissues using radiofrequency waves, notes the Seminars in Interventional Radiology. His discovery led to the first electrocautery device, called the Bovie. High energy alternating current is passed from an electrode to the diseased tissue.

In 1988, French electrophysiologist Michelle Haissaguerre used Scheinman's catheter ablation to treat atrial fibrillation, according to the UCSF Cardiology website. Haissaguerre mapped and ablated various sites within the pulmonary vein that appeared to start the fibrillations. His work produced a new routine procedure for using catheter ablation as a standard treatment for irregular heart rhythms.

In 1991, Haissaguerre further optimized his procedure by describing a way to ablate tissue closer to the heart, notes UCSF Cardiology. Ablation at sites farther away from the heart left a significant amount of patients still on drugs and led to complications, including shortness of breath. By ablating closer to the atrium rather than within the pulmonary vein, the complications could be avoided. As of 2015, this technique largely remains in practice.

Medical ablation uses extreme temperatures of heat and cold or radio energy to kill diseased and dysfunctional tissues in the body, states WebMD. Most commonly, the procedure is used to treat abnormal heart rhythms known as arrhythmias.

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