August 20, 2020
By Nelson Prager, MD Interventional Cardiologist, Aurora Denver Cardiology Associates the Medical Center of Aurora
The heart is an amazing organ. It starts beating before a baby is born and continues at about 70 beats a minute throughout a person's life. The heart speeds up with exercise and with stress. Sometimes, the heart can get out of sync. It can, suddenly, go fast and irregularly. When that happens a person may feel rapid heart rates, dizziness, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, pass out or even have a cardiac arrest.
The good news is that these heart rhythm irregularities (Arrhythmias) can be treated. For fast regular arrhythmias, a patient can be treated with medications to prevent the fast heart rates. They can be treated with small catheters placed in the heart to determine where the rhythm problem is coming from and cauterize the area and cure the heart problem. In patients with a heart arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation, the top chambers of the heart beat over 300 times a minute causing lots of symptoms. It is the most common heart rhythm abnormality and increases in frequency as patients get older.
Atrial Fibrillation can be treated with medications to control the heart rate and to keep the heart in normal rhythm. With a rate of over 300 beats a minute, the upper chambers don't pump blood well, causing the blood to clot. If the clots break off, it can go to the brain causing a stroke. Patients can be treated with blood thinners to prevent clot formation. In patients who cannot take blood thinners, doctors can implant a device (Watchman) in the left atrium to prevent clots from forming and migrating to the brain. If the lower chambers of the heart have fast firing, it can be life threatening.
Luckily, modern medicine has developed special pacemakers called ICDs that detect these rhythms and shock the patient out of the rhythm. These devices have saved many patients' lives over the years. Sometimes, the heart slows way down and does not pump enough blood to give the brain or body needed oxygen. The causes of these problems can be scarring of the electrical system of the heart, infections and autoimmune diseases. Fortunately, many of these slow heart rates can be treated with an implantation of a pacemaker. A pacemaker is a device that causes the heart to beat with electrical stimulus in a regular and controlled rate.
Rhythm disturbances of the heart are very common. However, medical science has made it possible to control and cure these problems, allowing patients to live normal lives.