The Medical Center Electrophysiology Laboratory is active in all aspects of the diagnosis and treatment of adult patients with cardiac arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythms. Cardiac arrhythmias occur when the electrical impulses in the heart that coordinate an individual’s heartbeats don't work properly, causing the heart to beat too fast, too slow or irregularly.
Evaluating cardiac arrhythmias
Sometimes people have occasional, irregular heartbeats that may feel like a fluttering or racing heart. However, some heart arrhythmias may cause worsening medical conditions or be life threatening and need medical evaluation and treatment by an electrophysiologist. An electrophysiologist is a cardiologist who has additional education and training in the diagnosis and treatment of abnormal heart rhythms.
Conditions that can be evaluated by an electrophysiologist include slow heart rhythms, fast heart rhythms, syncope (fainting spells or near fainting spells) and skipped heart beats. Another condition is atrial fibrillation, an irregular and often rapid heart rate that commonly causes poor blood flow to the body. During atrial fibrillation, the heart's two upper chambers (the atria) beat out of coordination with the two lower chambers (the ventricles) of the heart.
Electrophysiology testing is a procedure that evaluates the electrical system of the heart, diagnoses the type and location of rhythm disturbance and guides treatment. To locate the abnormal heart rhythm, an electrophysiologist uses the CARTO™ XP Navigation System to create three-dimensional maps of the heart. Precise electrical activity is color-coded to assist in diagnosis of the arrhythmia displayed on the anatomical map.
Heart arrhythmia treatment can often control or eliminate irregular heartbeats. Some treatments can also help prevent sudden cardiac death and provide advanced treatment of congestive heart failure.
Treatments depend on the type of arrhythmia that a patient has. The Medical Center Electrophysiology Laboratory offers the following treatment options:
- Radiofrequency ablation to treat and cure fast heart rhythms (for atrial and ventricular arrhythmias, i.e. Wolfe-Parkinson-White Syndrome, Atrial Flutter, Supraventricular Tachycardia, Premature Ventricular Contractions)
- Pacemaker implantation to treat slow heart rhythms
- Defibrillator implantation to prevent sudden cardiac death
- Biventricular defibrillator implantation for the advanced treatment of congestive heart failure
- Loop recorder implantation to evaluate unexplained fainting spells
- Cardioversion to shock the heart back into normal rhythm
Cardioversion is a procedure that restores a normal heart rhythm for people who have fast or irregular heart rates. The patient is connected to an electrocardiogram monitor that measures the electrical activity of the heart; the monitor is also connected to a defibrillator. An electrical shock is sent to the heart at a precise point during the heart rhythm cycle in order to convert the fast rhythm to a normal one.
- Tilt table testing to evaluate syncope
A tilt table study is a diagnostic test for unexplained episodes of fainting or syncope. During this procedure, the patient lies on a special table that is elevated from a horizontal position to a vertical position in an attempt to cause syncope. The patient’s blood pressure and heart rate are monitored to evaluate changes during the procedure. Learn more about tilt table studies.
Causes of abnormal heart rhythms
While an arrhythmia can strike anyone at any age, the condition is particularly common among older adults. The cause is often unclear. But experts have found that an arrhythmia can sometimes result from:
- Blocked arteries in the heart (coronary artery disease)
- Scarring of heart tissue (such as from a heart attack)
- Changes to the heart's structure (such as from an enlarged heart)
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
- Caffeine, tobacco, heavy alcohol use, or drug abuse
- Medications (such as cough and cold medicines, over-the-counter dietary supplements, appetite suppressants, and herbal treatments)