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Heart & Vascular:


What is an Arrhythmia?

An arrhythmia is an abnormal heartbeat rhythm. Arrhythmias happen when the heart beats too fast, too slow or beats irregularly, such as atrial fibrillation, the most common arrhythmia in the U.S.

Most arrhythmias are harmless. It’s common to feel your heart “skip” a beat or speed up when you’re afraid, excited or exercising. Too much caffeine and certain medications also can cause heart palpitations.

When irregular heartbeats are frequent or chronic, they can be serious — and sometimes life threatening. If your heart can’t pump enough blood to the body, it can damage the brain and other organs. Arrhythmias can lead to symptoms like shortness of breath or chest pain. They’re most commonly caused by heart disease, abnormal heart valve function or heart failure.

If your heart beats too fast, it’s called tachycardia. If your heart beats too slow, it’s called bradycardia. Common arrhythmias include atrial fibrillation, ventrical fibrillation, AV node re-entry tachycardia and Wolffe-Parkinson-White Syndrome.

Atrial Fibrillation (A-fib)

Atrial fibrillation is a rapid, irregular heart rhythm originating in the atria, the upper two heart chambers. A-fib can cause symptoms such as palpitations, rapid heartbeat, chest discomfort, shortness of breath and dizziness. In some people, atrial fibrillation increases the risk of stroke.

Atrioventricular (AV) Node Re-entry Tachycardia

AV node re-entry tachycardia is a rapid heart rhythm and the most common form of paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia or PSVT, also referred to as SVT. Patients with this arrhythmia do not have structural problems with their heart, but have two pathways that can carry impulses to and from the AV node. The AV node connects the upper and lower chambers of the heart. Under certain conditions, usually following a premature beat, these pathways can form an electrical circuit, whichstarts a rapid (over 100 beats per minute) heart rhythm.

Ventricular Fibrillation

Ventrical fibrillation is the most serious form of arrhythmia. It originates in the lower chambers, or ventricles, and usually occurs in people who have a damaged heart. Damaged hearts can be the result of a heart attack or structural abnormalities, such as an enlarged heart. Because ventricular fibrillation is so rapid and is occurring in a damaged heart, the heart may not function properly or efficiently, and this arrhythmia can be fatal.

Wolffe-Parkinson-White Syndrome

Wolffe-Parkinson-White syndrome is an arrhythmia caused by an extra electrical pathway from the atria to the ventricles. Although some people with WPW do not have any symptoms, others have palpitations, dizziness, and chest discomfort. Rarely, WPW can be life-threatening.

Why Should You Choose Emory to Treat an Arrhythmia?

Our arrhythmia treatment program is among the most comprehensive and innovative options for heart rhythm disorders in the country. Our cardiac heart rhythm specialists, called electrophysiologists, rank among world’s leaders in cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT). They’ve performed more cardiac ablation procedures than anyone in the southeast – more than 5,000 per year.

We are pioneers in shaping arrhythmia treatment options. As primary and principal investigators for national clinical trials, we’ve participated in many atrial fibrillation (A-fib, AF) and atrial flutter (a-flutter) studies with multiple catheters and energy sources. Our ongoing clinical trials feature new pacemakers, defibrillators and ablation catheters, as well as new ways to use existing devices. In fact, we’re the only center in Georgia participating in a trial that provides alternatives to blood thinners to prevent stroke in patients with A-fib.

What are the Screenings and Tests to Diagnose an Arrhythmia?

Diagnosing arrhythmia involves many factors, including a careful history of your health. If you have an arrhythmia, you may not feel any symptoms, or you may report symptoms that can seem unrelated to the heart, like dizziness, fainting or shortness of breath. Medications, diseases (including thyroid problems), diet and stress can cause some arrhythmias.

If you are having or have recently had heart palpitations, a racing heart or any other heart disturbances that concern you, please call Emory HealthConnection at 404-778-7777 to schedule your screening appointment.

Our arrhythmia specialists take these factors into account and conduct tests, including:

  • Echocardiogram
  • Holter Monitoring
  • Event Recorder
  • Tilt Table Test
  • Electrophysiology (EP) Study

What are the Treatments for an Arrhythmia?

Our team of electrophysiologists performs the following electrophysiology services and procedures:

  • Cardioversion
  • Diagnostic EP studies
  • Catheter ablation of arrhythmias
  • Loop recorder implantations and monitoring
  • Pacemaker and ICD implants and follow-up
  • Resynchronization therapy for heart failure
  • Tilt-table testing
  • Transtelephonic arrhythmia monitoring

What Can You Expect for Recovery and Follow Up Visits for an Arrhythmia?

If you have a pacemaker or ICD, you can expect to have follow-up visits every 6-12 months, depending on the device and diagnosis. These follow-up visits are required for optimal device function and monitoring of diagnostics. If you have questions or concerns about your device, contact our Cardiac Device Clinic staff.

If you have an Implanted Loop Recorder, it monitors your heart rhythms heart continuously for 18-22 months. They are implanted under the skin on the chest by a cardiologist. The stored information is extracted and evaluated non-invasively every few months.

Our patients benefit from the latest innovation in technology, such as remote monitoring for pacemakers and ICDs (varies by manufacturer). Remote monitoring offers patients the convenient and timesaving option of having a device checked from home instead of coming into the clinic.

Did You Know?

We provide comprehensive arrhythmia management at locations around Atlanta, Georgia. If you have an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), our electrophysiologists are available for regular follow-up care and consultative outpatient services.