Heart rhythm disorders (cardiac arrhythmia)
Your heart produces electrical signals that tell it when to beat. When those signals aren’t sent properly, your heart misfires — beating out of rhythm, or at a faster than normal pace. Called “arrhythmias,” these disorders, in most cases, are not life-threatening. However, depending on the area of the heart where they occur, arrhythmias can pose a serious health threat — including stroke.
Diagnostics to detect heart rhythm disorders include:
Electrocardiogram (EKG) — Electrical pulses generated by your heart are measured and evaluated to determine if there are any anomalies or unusual conditions present.
Echocardiogram — Sound waves are directed to your heart through a device that is held up to your chest. The sound waves cause a pattern that allows the physician to see if valves and other parts of the heart are operating properly.
Ultrasound — Doppler ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the heart and blood vessels.
Holter/Event monitoring — This simple machine allows leads to be placed on your chest to record your heart’s electrical activity for a period of 24 hours or more.
Stress test — Measurement of your heart signals and blood pressure during exercise (while walking on a treadmill). The test may include pictures being taken of your heart while you are at rest and after you have exercised.
Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) — This echocardiogram is performed after a narrow imaging tube is passed through your esophagus to get the most accurate view of your heart.
Tilt table test — Your blood pressure and heart rate are measured both when you are lying flat and when the table is tilted up.
Electrophysiology study – Catheters are placed through veins into the heart to measure and record electrical signals and abnormal rhythms.
Implantable loop recorder – A device is surgically inserted under the skin (in the chest area) to record abnormal rhythms for an extended period of time.
Procedures to treat heart rhythm disorders include:
Cardioversion — If you have an unresolved heart rhythm rate in your atria, this procedure will shock your heart back into normal rhythm. It will be done after medication is administered and, typically, after a transesophageal echocardiogram is performed.
Radiofrequency ablation — During this minimally invasive interventional procedure a physician guides a narrow tube (catheter) to the predetermined area of your heart where the misfired signals are occurring. A probe at the tip of the catheter uses radiofrequency energy to eliminate (ablate) the tissue causing the misfiring.
Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) — This device is designed to shock your heart back into a normal sinus rhythm when it is beating irregularly or too slowly.
Maze procedure surgery — An “open” surgical procedure during which a series of surgical incisions are made throughout the atria compartment of the heart to force the heart’s electrical signals to travel in a proper pattern to maintain a healthy rhythm.
Pacemakers — If the heart rhythm is too slow, these surgically implanted devices will keep your heart beating at a normal, healthy pace.