If you’ve ever felt that your heart skipped a beat or that your heart was thumping in your chest, you may have felt a heart arrhythmia, or an abnormal heart rhythm. While everyone can experience an abnormal heart rhythm once in a while, an irregular heart beat that occurs periodically could signal trouble.
When your heart beats, electrical impulses help the heart muscles contract, pumping blood through the chambers of the heart and throughout the body. If the muscles contract too quickly or not quickly enough, blood doesn’t pump efficiently and instead can pool in the upper chambers, forming clots that can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
Types of Heart Arrhythmias
The American Heart Association lists several arrhythmias that can affect the heart beat:
- Atrial fibrillation—the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) contract irregularly.
- Bradycardia—a slow heart rate, which can cause insufficient blood flow to the brain.
- Conduction disorders—the heart does not beat normally because of the way electrical impulses travel through the heart.
- Premature contraction—an extra beat that, when it occurs occasionally, is normal and is common in children and teenagers.
- Tachycardia—a very fast heart beat resulting from disruption of the electrical signals in the heart. This could be from a physical illness or from the body’s response to anxiety, fever, fright, medicine or drugs.
- Ventricular fibrillation—the most serious type of abnormal rhythm, it occurs when the lower chambers of the heart quiver and don’t pump blood, leading to cardiac arrest.
Treatment for Arrhythmias
The cause of the irregular heart beat will dictate the treatment. For those with tachycardia, it may involve decreasing caffeine. For others, prescribed medications may help control abnormal heart beats, but don’t cure the condition. Some medicines may thin the blood so that if it pools in the heart’s chambers, it does not clot, reducing the risk of stroke and heart attack. However, medications are not effective for everyone, and may either fail to stop the irregular heart beats or create too great a risk of excessive bleeding.
Cardiac ablation is a procedure that can cure certain arrhythmias by destroying the abnormal heart tissue that causes the irregular heart beat. Cardiac ablation is considered a low-risk, minimally invasive and highly successful procedure.
The Cardiac Ablation Procedure
Cardiac ablation is performed in a hospital electrophysiology or catheter lab. You’ll be given anesthesia for pain and perhaps a sedative, but you’ll be awake during the procedure. The doctor will insert a needle into a blood vessel in your groin and will guide a long thin tube, or catheter, into the blood vessel and up to the heart, monitoring the process on a video screen using X-ray imaging.
The catheters have electrodes at the ends that send electrical impulses to the heart and monitor your heart’s electrical activity. This allows your doctor to determine what abnormal heart tissue is causing the irregular heart beat. With that information, the doctor can send a mild, painless electrical impulse to that tissue, scarring it so it no longer creates that arrhythmia.
The medical procedure may take two to four hours, and you may go home the same day or stay in the hospital overnight.
Although cardiac ablations have the benefit of being minimally invasive and effective, the procedure does have some risks. These include bleeding or infection at the catheter site, damage to blood vessels or heart valves, damage to the heart’s electrical system, puncture of the heart, heart attack or stroke.
If you’re considering cardiac ablation, make sure you are well-informed on the benefits and risks. Then make sure you consider a medical team that uses the most advanced technology and procedures for resolving irregular heart beats.
Orlando Health’s Atrial Fibrillation Program specializes in multiple procedures to help your heart—and you—get back in rhythm. For more information, please contact us.
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Our team of electrophysiology specialists uses the most innovative technology and advanced methods available for diagnosis and creating a customized treatment plan for patients with arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation (Afib).Learn More