When Your Heart Skips a Beat

EP LabDiagnosis and Treatment of Ventricular Arrhythmias

You’re taking a routine phone call on a stress-free Tuesday when it happens: Your heart skips a beat. Or it temporarily races uncontrollably. Should you get it checked? “Yes,” according to Cardiac Electrophysiologist Mark Dixon, D.O. “Arrhythmia or changes in rhythm can be important clues that your heart has an electrical problem. Though it can be serious, it’s also quite treatable,” he said.

A Little Anatomy

Your heart is one large organ divided into four smaller chambers. The two top chambers are the atria and they sort of “prime the pump,” explained Dr. Dixon. The two lower chambers are the ventricles and they are the main pumping chambers of the heart, responsible for pumping blood throughout the body.

An arrhythmia in the upper chambers is called atrial fibrillation, which can be annoying and increase your risk for stroke. But ventricular arrhythmia, which happens in the lower chambers, tends to be even more risky, said Dr. Dixon. “When you hear of an athlete suddenly collapsing of cardiac arrest, you’re hearing about the most extreme ventricular arrhythmia,” said Dr. Dixon. “A short circuit in the heart leads to a very rapid, racing heart, beating so fast it can’t pump blood to the body. Your blood pressure drops and you collapse.”

Who gets Ventricular Arrhythmia?

Ventricular Arrhythmia (VA) can happen in two types of people:

People with structural heart damage About 70% of VA patients have some sort of structural heart disease – prior heart attacks or cardiomyopathy. We’ve seen these arrhythmias develop within hours of a heart attack or 20 years later,” he said.

Those with structurally “normal” hearts “Modern medicine can’t explain why your heart can appear normal and then suddenly fail due to an electrical malfunction,” said Dr. Dixon. “That’s why it’s important to pay attention.”

Diagnosis – Capturing the Moment

Medicine has gotten very good at diagnosing arrhythmias. “Back 30 years ago, we could only diagnose about three in 10 arrhythmias. New techniques mean we can find more than 80% of arrhythmias – and treat them,” said Dr. Dixon. Today’s heart monitoring devices are very comfortable and can be worn for longer periods, increasing the odds of capturing an episode. New monitors can be worn on the belt like a beeper or even implanted in a simple two-minute, in-office procedure.

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