Your heart works like an electrical pump, sending out currents that synchronize your heartbeats. Arrhythmia occurs when these electrical pulses get out of sync, causing your heart to beat too fast, slow, or erratically.
If you have arrhythmia, you may experience heart fluttering, chest pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness. Some heart rhythm issues are harmless and don’t cause any symptoms. But certain arrhythmias can be life-threatening and increase your risk of heart failure and stroke.
At the Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Cardiovascular Institute, we use the latest technologies to swiftly diagnose your condition and get your heart back in sync.
Diagnosing heart arrhythmia
Our Electrophysiology (EP) Program features sophisticated diagnostic equipment to test the electrical activity of your heart. Our heart rhythm specialists, or electrophysiologists, rely on advanced heart mapping equipment to pinpoint problems that often go undetected.
Irregular heartbeats, or arrhythmias, affect the heart differently. Types of arrhythmia include:
- Atrial fibrillation (AFib): Your heart’s upper chambers contract irregularly.
- Ventricular fibrillation: Your heart’s lower chambers contract irregularly.
- Bradycardia: Your heart beats too slowly, at less than 60 beats per minute.
- Tachycardia: Your heart beats too quickly, at more than 100 beats per minute.
- Premature contractions: You experience an extra heartbeat that happens earlier than it should.
Treating heart arrhythmia
Our heart rhythm specialists have deep expertise in treating a range of arrhythmia problems, from the routine to the complex. Most treatments take place in our Electrophysiology Program.
Treatment options include:
- Medication management
- Pacemakers and defibrillators
- Left atrial appendage occlusion (WATCHMAN™ device)
These medications can treat arrhythmia symptoms and lower stroke risk:
- Blood thinners: Also known as antiplatelets or anticoagulants, these medications lower stroke risk by preventing blood clots from forming.
- Heart rate control medications: These medications, also known as beta blockers and calcium channel blockers, help control heart rate and reduce symptoms related to fast heart rhythms.
- Heart rhythm control medications: These medications help your heart’s upper and lower chambers work together more efficiently.
Pacemakers and defibrillators, such as implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD), send electrical pulses to help your heart maintain a normal rhythm.
Your doctor returns your heart to a normal rhythm by delivering an electrical shock directly to your heart. The shock disrupts the electrical pulses causing the irregular heartbeat.
During an ablation procedure your doctor uses either heat (radiofrequency ablation) or extreme cold (cryoablation) to destroy areas of heart tissue responsible for sending erratic electrical signals. The resulting scar tissue blocks the signals that cause arrhythmia. Your doctor also closes or removes the left atrial appendage, an area where stroke-causing blood clots often form.
- Catheter ablation: Your doctor guides thin wires or catheters through a blood vessel in your groin to reach your heart and destroy targeted heart tissue.
- Zero-fluoroscopy ablation: We’re a national leader in using echocardiograms instead of X-rays to perform this specialized procedure to treat various arrhythmias. This process minimizes your exposure to radiation during a procedure.
- Hybrid ablation: Your surgeon works with a cardiac electrophysiologist in this procedure that combines surgical and catheter ablation to treat certain arrhythmias. This approach also minimizes your radiation exposure.
- Surgical Cox-Maze procedure: During open-heart surgery, your doctor uses a scalpel to scar heart tissue, and also closes the left atrial appendage.
The AHN Cardiovascular Institute was one of the first in the state to offer the WATCHMAN device. This self-expanding device seals off the heart’s left atrial appendage where blood clots often form in people who have AFib. WATCHMAN lowers your stroke risk by preventing blood clots from entering your bloodstream.
AHN Atrial Fibrillation Clinic
We offer ongoing, comprehensive arrhythmia care at the AHN Atrial Fibrillation Clinic located within the AHN Cardiovascular Institute at Allegheny General Hospital.