Heart arrhythmia, also called cardiac arrhythmia, is the medical term for an abnormal heart rhythm. Normally, the heart pumps in a steady rhythm, only speeding up or slowing down to accommodate the body's demands at exercise or rest. A person with arrhythmia has a heart that beats too quickly or too slowly and in an irregular pattern.
There are several types of arrhythmias and many conditions that can cause them. Some of these conditions include coronary artery disease, diabetes mellitus, obesity, excessive alcohol or caffeine intake, a history of heart attack ("myocardial infarction") and obstructive sleep apnea.
Some forms of arrhythmia don't produce symptoms. Certain forms of arrhythmia are generally harmless, but others can be dangerous. You should discuss any symptoms with your doctor.
Arrhythmias are defined by both the heart rate and the heart's chamber from which the irregular rhythm originates. For example, a too-fast heart rate, called tachycardia, that originates in the lower chamber of the heart, called the ventricle, is ventricular tachycardia. Some types of arrhythmia include the following.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of arrhythmia. AF occurs when rapid, disorganized electrical signals cause the atria, the two upper chambers of the heart, to fibrillate. The term "fibrillate" means to contract very fast and irregularly. In AF, blood pools in the atria and isn't pumped completely into the ventricles, the heart's two lower chambers. As a result, the heart's upper and lower chambers don't work together as they should. Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
Atrial flutter is similar to atrial fibrillation (AF), but instead of the electrical signals spreading through the atria in a fast and irregular rhythm, they travel in a fast and regular rhythm. Atrial flutter is much less common than AF, but it has similar symptoms and complications. Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia (PSVT) is a very fast heart rate that begins and ends suddenly. PSVT occurs due to problems with the electrical connection between the atria and the ventricles. In PSVT, electrical signals that begin in the atria and travel to the ventricles can reenter the atria, causing extra heartbeats. This type of arrhythmia usually isn't dangerous and tends to occur in young people. It can happen during vigorous exercise. Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
Ventricular Tachycardia (VT) is a fast, regular beating of the ventricles that may last for only a few seconds or for much longer. A few beats of ventricular tachycardia often don't cause problems. However, episodes that last for more than a few seconds can be dangerous. Ventricular tachycardia can turn into other, more dangerous arrhythmias, such as v-fib. Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
Ventricular Fibrillation (V-fib) occurs when disorganized electrical signals make the ventricles quiver instead of pump normally. Without the ventricles pumping blood out to the body, you'll lose consciousness within seconds and die within minutes if not treated. To prevent death, the condition must be treated right away with an electric shock to the heart called defibrillation. V-fib may happen during or after a heart attack or in someone whose heart is already weak because of another condition. Health experts think that most of the sudden cardiac deaths that occur every year (about 335,000) are due to v-fib. Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
Long QT Syndrome (LQTS) is a disorder of the heart's electrical activity. It may cause you to develop a sudden, uncontrollable, and dangerous arrhythmia in response to exercise or stress. The term"long QT" refers to an abnormal pattern seen on an EKG (electrocardiogram). The QT interval, recorded on the EKG, corresponds to the time during which the ventricles are triggered to contract and then build the potential to contract again. Normally the QT interval of the heartbeat lasts about a third of each heartbeat cycle on the EKG. However, in people who have LQTS, the QT interval usually lasts longer than normal. This can upset the careful timing of the heartbeat and trigger a dangerous, abnormal rhythm. Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
Sick Sinus - Aging or heart disease damages your sinus node's ability to set the correct pace for your heartbeat. Such damage can cause slower than normal heartbeats or long pauses between heartbeats. The damage also can cause your heart to alternate between slow and fast rhythms. This condition is called sick sinus syndrome.Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
Conduction Block - Heart block is a problem that occurs with the heart's electrical system. With each heartbeat, an electrical signal spreads across the heart from the upper to the lower chambers. As it travels, the signal causes the heart to contract and pump blood. This process repeats with each new heartbeat. Heart block occurs if the electrical signal is slowed or disrupted as it moves from the upper to the lower chambers of the heart. Some people are born with heart block (congenital), while others develop it during their lifetimes (acquired). Congenital heart block may be found before or after a baby is born. Certain diseases that may occur during pregnancy can cause heart block in a baby. Some congenital heart defects also can cause congenital heart block. These defects are problems with the heart's structure that are present at birth. Often, doctors don't know what causes these defects. Acquired heart block is more common than congenital heart block. Damage to the heart muscle and its electrical system causes acquired heart block. Diseases, surgery, or medicines can cause this damage. Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
At Baptist, physicians who specialize in the treatment of heart rhythm abnormalities, called cardiac electrophysiologists, treat patients with arrhythmias. These physicians use a number of state-of-the art diagnostic tests to determine the type and severity of your arrhythmia and the recommended treatment options.
J. Michael Bensler, MD
To fine tune your diagnosis, your physician may perform an electrophysiology (EP) study in Baptist's state-of-the-art EP Lab. This procedure may require an overnight stay. An EP study can be performed using catheter-based techniques that involve placement of small mapping catheters into the heart in a manner similar to a diagnostic coronary angiogram of the heart. During the study, your physician will use sophisticated equipment that maps the electrical system of the heart to pinpoint where the problem is.
Dr. Bensler performs EP Studies at Baptist.
Depending on what your physician discovers as a result of this or any diagnostic tests you may receive, your treatment will range from medications, to a procedure in our EP Lab, to surgery. Baptist offers all the following treatment options:
There are a number of drugs, such as anti-arrhythmic medications, used to treat patients with arrhythmias. These medications can sometimes suppress abnormal heart rhythms from occurring, but they occasionally are ineffective or cause unwanted side effects that require their discontinuation. Other medications, such as Coumadin, are given to reduce the risk of complications that may arise from arrhythmias. For example, untreated atrial fibrillation may cause blood clots to form in the heart. These clots may travel to the brain and cause a stroke. Treatment with Coumadin does not cause the atrial fibrillation to go away, but it does reduce the risk of blood clots forming.
During this treatment, a physician can precisely ablate and destroy abnormal areas of heart tissue where faulty electrical signals originate. Ablation has proven to provide long-term relief to patients with many types of arrhythmias. For some patients, this treatment can be done in Baptist's Cath Lab. For others, surgery is recommended. Surgeons at Baptist also perform the "Mini Maze," a minimally invasive ablation procedure for the treatment of lone atrial fibrillation.
Additionally, Baptist's Cath Lab has acquired the Arctic Front® Cardiac CryoAblation Catheter system, the first and only cryoballoon in the United States indicated to treat drug refractory recurrent symptomatic paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (PAF). Unlike traditional ablation treatments that use radiofrequency, or heat, to destroy faulty electrical circuits in the heart, the Arctic Front ablates cardiac tissue through the use of a coolant delivered through a catheter. The advantages of cryoablation over radiofrequency ablation include a lower risk of stroke post-procedure, and the ability to treat areas of low blood flow, where radiofrequency ablation cannot be used.
Dr. Bensler performs ablations in the Cath Lab.
William H. Harris, MD, performs the "Mini Maze" procedure. Watch his video profile.
For some patients, the heart's rhythm can be best maintained by implanting a device that provides a reliable electrical signal to keep the heart pumping in the correct sequence. Baptist provides several state-of-the-art devices.
ICDs are stop-watch-sized devices implanted under the skin near the collarbone and connected to the heart with insulated leads. An ICD is used to treat abnormally fast and life-threatening arrhythmias, or irregular heart beats. It defibrillates-stuns-the heart, breaking the fast cycle of beats and allowing the heart to "reset." This returns the heart to a normal rhythm. Used preventively in people with heart failure and poor heart pumping function, these devices have been clinically proven to reduce the incidence of sudden cardiac death.
These pacemakers, designed to treat heart failure, pace both left and right sides of the heart, as opposed to standard pacemakers that pace only one side of the heart. Bi-ventricular pacing, also called cardiac resynchronization therapy, allows the left ventricle to pump blood more efficiently. Certain types of these pacemakers may also monitor fluid accumulation in the thoracic cavity. Fluid accumulation of this type may signal worsening symptoms in heart failure patients. Early detection of fluid accumulation can assist in management of heart failure.
These devices have capabilities of both the bi-ventricular pacemakers and ICDs. They pace the heart and can provide defibrillation as well.
Physicians who treat patients with these devices include J. Michael Bensler, MD; Alfredo Figueroa, MD; and F. Earl Fyke, III, MD.
After you have begun treatment, your physician may recommend that you participate in Baptist's Cardiac Rehab program. This is an outpatient program that combines supervised exercise with heart-specific education. Cardiac rehab can help patients feel better and reduce their risk for future heart problems
If you would like to become a patient at Baptist, the first step is seeing one of our physicians. You can request an appointment at Baptist Heart by using the following link.
Request an appointment at Baptist Heart
If you still have questions about arrhythmias and how they are treated at Baptist, please call our Baptist Health Line. Nurses and other professionals there can help you decide your next steps. Call 601-948-6262 or 1-800-948-6262. Health Line hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. CST.
Baptist has earned several prestigious certifications, accreditations and awards for our care of patients with cardiovascular conditions. Additionally, Baptist is the only hospital in Jackson enrolled in the PROTECT-AF trial, a test of the "Watchman" left atrial appendage (LAA) closure device against warfarin for the prevention of stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation.
See our full list of certifications, accreditations and awards.
If you have a family history of heart disease and/or stroke, you may be interested in our low cost screening programs. These screenings are available year round and provide results you can have sent to your personal physician.
Learn more about our heart and stroke screening programs.
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