Your heart’s rhythm: treatments to stay on beat

April 02, 2019 | by Cash Casey, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

This blog originally appeared on the Healthy Driven Chicago website.

The average human heart beats about 115,000 times per day. The heart beats automatically and usually runs smoothly, efficiently and accurately. But sometimes it can short-circuit, leading to an abnormal heartbeat. When your heart beats abnormally fast, slow or irregular, it’s referred to as an arrhythmia.

There are several factors that can cause a person to experience an arrhythmia. Often these rhythm disturbances are genetic and run in families. Other factors that may lead to an arrhythmia include high blood pressure, smoking, drinking alcohol or caffeine, stress, dehydration, exhaustion, obstructive sleep apnea, and other types of heart disease.

Palpitations are the most common symptom and cause your heart to feel as though it is skipping, hopping, fluttering or racing. You might also experience shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, sweating or fainting.

If you experience these symptoms, do not ignore them — it’s best to get them evaluated by a primary care physician or cardiac specialist. Left untreated, arrhythmias can lead to heart attack or stroke. They are also sometimes a sign of undiagnosed heart disease.

To diagnose an arrhythmia, doctors often rely on electrocardiogram (EKG) tests to tell them exactly what’s going on with your body’s electrical system. Depending on the results, some patients will go on to wear a monitor for up to a month to observe their heart’s rhythm. If an arrhythmia occurs during this time period, it can be recorded.

Typically, arrhythmias are treated with one of three strategies:

  • Lifestyle changes – Often arrhythmias can be managed through lifestyle changes such as improving diet, cutting back on alcohol and caffeine, lowering stress levels and staying hydrated.
  • Medication – Simple beta blockers can slow the heart to avoid triggering an arrhythmia.
  • Electrophysiological studies & ablation – During this minimally invasive procedure, doctors are able to do an internal EKG of the heart to find short circuits and abnormal electricity. Upon finding the location and cause of your arrhythmia, your doctor can do an ablation. This involves delivering a small amount of electrical energy to a particular area of the heart to get rid of abnormal activity.

Some patients may also need a pacemaker or inflatable cardioverter-defibrillator. These devices are placed under the skin in the chest area and are able to deliver a small shock if an abnormal heart rhythm is detected.

Edward-Elmhurst Health is one of the first hospitals in the country to offer WATCHMANTM — an alternative for patients with arrhythmias (not related to heart valve disease) who can’t tolerate blood thinners due to the side effects or who no longer want to be on them. This device is implanted through a blood vessel in the leg and is placed in the left atrial appendage of the heart to keep potential stroke-causing blood clots from escaping. We perform the most WATCHMAN procedures in Illinois.

We also have a specialized AFib (atrial fibrillation) Wellness Clinic — one of only a few in the country — to provide diagnosis and treatment for mild to severe arrhythmias. Our team of expert surgeons, physicians, nurses and other staff members provide a great resource for education and learning more about atrial fibrillation.

To find out if you’re at risk for heart disease, take an online HeartAware assessment or make an appointment online. You can also call 630-527-2800.

Learn more about heart and vascular services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Join us at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 20 at Elmhurst Hospital for an "Answers about AFib" program, as cardiac electrophysiologist Cash Casey, M.D., talks about AFib and available treatment options. Register now.

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