Diagnosing and Treating Arrhythmia
A heart rhythm disorder, or arrhythmia, happens when the heart beats too quickly, too slowly or with an irregular rhythm. Some heart rhythm disorders are harmless, while others can be very serious and even life threatening.
There are many kinds of heart rhythm disorders, including:
- Tachycardia: An unusually rapid heart rate
- Bradycardia: An unusually slow heart rate
- Atrial flutter: When the heart's upper chambers beat too quickly
- Atrial fibrillation: An irregular heart rate that can cause poor blood flow
Temecula Valley Hospital has a dedicated Electrophysiology Lab to diagnose and treat heart rhythm disorders.
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Heart rhythm disorders are common in older adults and most serious arrhythmias affect people over the age of 60. Certain disorders, however, are more common in children and young adults.
Heart rhythm disorders are also more common in people who have other diseases or conditions that weaken the heart, such as heart attack, heart failure and congenital heart defects. High blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea and infections that damage the heart can also increase the risk for a heart rhythm disorder. Some medications can also cause an arrhythmia.
Many people with a heart rhythm disorder don't experience any signs or symptoms, while others may experience:
- A slow or irregular heartbeat
- Feeling a pause between heartbeat
Some heart rhythm disorders may cause more serious symptoms, such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Detection and Diagnosis
Your doctor will perform a physical evaluation and discuss your medical history, including family history, symptoms, medication and physical activity. During the physical exam, your doctor will listen to your heartbeat, check your pulse, check for swelling and look for signs of other diseases.
Many imaging tests can also help doctors diagnose a heart rhythm disorder. The most common test is an electrocardiogram (EKG). This simple test records your hearts electrical activity and shows how fast your heart is beating. An EKG only records the heart for a few seconds and will only record any arrhythmias that happen during the test.
For arrhythmias that happen less frequently, your doctor may have you wear a Holter monitor, event monitor or loop recorder. A Holter monitor records your heart for a full day or two. An event monitor is similar, but it does not record the heart continuously. For some event monitors, you will need to start the device when you feel symptoms. Others will begin to record automatically if they detect an arrhythmia. A loop recorder is implanted under the skin near the chest and continuously records the heart's electrical activity for up to three years.
Electrophysiology (EP) Procedure
Electrophysiology services at Temecula Valley Hospital enhance our ability to better diagnose and treat patients with a heart rhythm disorder.
In this test, the doctor inserts a long flexible tube called a catheter into the blood vessel that leads to your heart. The doctor then sends small electrical pulses through the catheter to make your heart beat at different speeds, which can help locate where an arrhythmia is starting.
3D Cardiac Mapping
This process creates a 3D road map of the heart that helps doctors identify electrical activity of the heart in real time, and potentially treat any irregularities immediately.
Medication can be used to slow down a heart that’s beating too rapidly or to restore a steady rhythm for patients with an irregular rhythm. If medicine is not effective, a procedure called radiofrequency ablation may also be used. During this procedure, high-frequency radio waves are used to “zap” the heart tissue that’s causing the irregular electrical signals.
Pacemakers are used to treat patients with a heart that’s beating too slowly. These small, battery-powered devices are implanted in the chest or abdomen. They use electrical pulses to prompt the heart to beat at a normal rate.
An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is a similar device for patients with potentially life-threatening heart rhythm disorders. An ICD monitors heart rhythms. If it senses dangerous rhythms, it delivers a shock called defibrillation. Most new ICDs can also act as a pacemaker.