Irregular heartbeats, or arrhythmias, can feel like a fluttering in your chest or a brief racing heart rate. Most arrhythmias are not serious, but some can be dangerous or life threatening.
At the Montana Heart Center, Dr. Patricia Kelly and her staff have extensive experience diagnosing and treating these heart rhythm problems. Testing can involve wearing one of several kinds of small, portable monitors to record heart rhythms over time. For example, a Holter monitor records your heart rhythm continuously for 24 to 48 hours. Event monitors record your heart rhythm only during an abnormal episode, and can be worn for longer periods. And some tiny heart rhythm recorders can be inserted under the skin on your chest.
If tests reveal that your arrhythmia should be treated, you could have one of these therapies:
- Cardioversion – The use of low-energy electrical shocks to restore normal heart rhythm.
- Pacemakers – Implanted, battery-operated devices that regulate heart rhythm.
- Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators – Implanted, battery-operated devices that use electrical shock to restore normal heart rhythm.
- Medications – Prescription drugs that help regulate heart rhythms.
If you have a fast or irregular heartbeat, your doctor may recommend cardioversion to restore your heart’s normal rhythm. This procedure is usually scheduled in advance, but if your symptoms are severe you may have it right away.
Unlike most other interventional cardiology procedures, cardioversion does not use a catheter. Instead, it uses soft pads with electrodes to deliver one or more low-energy electrical shocks to the outside of your chest. The electric current travels to your heart to bring it back into normal rhythm.
In most cases you will be asleep during the procedure and will not feel pain.
To learn more about cardioversion for heart arrhythmias, visit the American Heart Association at www.heart.org.
These small devices send electrical signals to your heart to make it beat at a steady rate. You may get a pacemaker if your heart beats too slowly, or with an irregular rhythm.
Pacemakers are implanted under the skin near your collarbone, with a wire extending to your heart. The surgery to implant this device takes about an hour, and may require an overnight hospital stay to make sure the device is working correctly.
After you get your pacemaker, you will return regularly to the Cardiac Device Clinic at the Montana Heart Center to have it checked. We follow up with our patients long term to ensure that they are doing well and their devices are functioning properly.
To learn more about pacemakers, visit the National Library of Medicine at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007369.htm.
Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)
Ventricular fibrillation is a serious arrhythmia that can reduce the heart’s pumping ability so much that it puts your life in danger. If you are at risk for this condition you may need an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD.
These small, battery-powered devices track your heart rate. If your ICD detects a serious arrhythmia, it will deliver an electric shock to restore you normal heartbeat. ICDs today also act as pacemakers.
ICDs are implanted under skin of your chest or abdomen, or below your collarbone. Wires connect the device to your heart. Most people stay in the hospital at least overnight to make sure their ICD is functioning correction.
After you get your ICD, you will return regularly to the Cardiac Device Clinic at the Montana Heart Center to have it checked. We follow up with our patients long term to ensure that they are doing well and their devices are functioning properly.
To learn more about ICDs, visit the American Heart Association at www.heart.org.
Many arrhythmias, especially an abnormally fast heartbeat, respond to medications. Some help control the irregular heartbeat, and others minimize the risk for blood clots that can occur with certain arrhythmias.
Medication can improve cardiac arrhythmias, but they don’t cure the underlying problem. These medications are usually taken long term. If your doctor prescribes one for you, be sure to take it exactly as prescribed.
To learn more about medication for heart arrhythmias, visit the American Heart Association at www.heart.org.