Evaluation & Treatment of Irregular Heartbeats and Passing Out Episodes
Arrhythmia, also known as cardiac dysrhythmia, is any one of a group of conditions in which there is an irregularity of the electrical activity within the heart, resulting in a heartbeat that is either too fast, too slow, or is irregular. Arrhythmia can develop at any age and is usually not life-threatening; however, in some cases it can lead to stroke, passing out, heart failure, and in the worst case, cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a term used to describe unexpected death as a result of arrhythmia, and is one of the most common causes of death while an ambulance is en route to the hospital. Atrial fibrillation is a common arrhythmia that usually presents the patient with heart palpitations, often remains undetected for years, and is sometimes the cause of strokes and heart failure. Bradyarrhythmia, also known as a slow heart rate, is a common cause of fatigue, dizziness with exertion, and even passing out.
How is Arrhythmia Evaluated?
Depending on the severity of the arrhythmia, some can be detected simply with the use of a stethoscope while others require an electrocardiogram (ECG) to be performed. Aside from our in-office diagnostic testing, Tampa Cardiology Associates also offers the use of Holter Monitors and Event Monitors, medical devices that serve as portable ECG’s. The patient can wear these devices within the comfort of their own home, while the rhythm of their heart is constantly monitored and any changes or abnormalities are recorded for their physician’s review. In rare occasions when the arrhythmia is very infrequent, the physicians at Tampa Cardiovascular Associates may suggest the implantation of a recording device under the skin for the long term monitoring of an arrhythmia, a procedure performed in the hospital. Finally and also infrequently, the physicians at Tampa Cardiovascular Associates may request a test called tilt table testing in cases of passing out or near passing out. This test can be performed in the office and is a non-invasive method for determining the cause of passing out.
How is Arrhythmia Treated?
In many cases arrhythmia requires no treatment, and some people will go their entire lives without even realizing that they have an irregular heartbeat. Though implantation of pacemakers or implanted defibrillators are sometimes needed in extreme cases, our physicians strive to provide the best and most non-invasive techniques whenever possible:
Many rhythmic disorders respond very well to medication, with several drugs already available and others currently in development. While medications can rarely truly cure cardiac arrhythmias, they usually improve symptoms by preventing future episodes from starting or shortening their duration and/or intensity.Pacemaker Implants A pacemaker is a small device that is implanted in a patient’s chest under the skin or muscle, and, using electrical pulses, regulates, monitors, and records the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat. Pacemakers are used for the management of slow heart rhythms while certain pacemakers, biventricular or cardiac resynchronization devices, are used for the management of heart failure symptoms.
Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators (ICD’s)
ICD’s are very similar to pacemakers, but are slightly larger in size and are used in situations where patients have the potential to develop lethal arrhythmias, such as heart failure and certain congenital conditions. These devices are capable of not only monitoring the heartbeat and rhythm but also of delivering high-energy shocks in cases of life threatening arrhythmias, jolting the heart into beating normally again.