Diagnosing the Causes of

Irregular Heart Beats

 
Effective October 9, BCH Cardiac Care Services - except for rehabilitation - will be totally relocated to Foothills Hospital, 4747 Arapahoe Avenue, in Boulder. There will be no changes in the range of services available, only the location. This is part of a consolidation of services at Foothills Hospital.  Click here for more information on this important change in local health care.

The body relies on a natural electrical system to create heart muscle contractions, which in turn cause blood to flow in and out of the heart. Normally, electricity flows throughout the heart in a regular pattern. But if a problem occurs along the electrical pathway, the heart rhythm (or beat) can become too slow, too fast or irregular. More than four million Americans have an irregular heartbeat, also known as cardiac arrhythmia.

Our state-of-the-art lab and highly skilled medical team are part of BCH’s commitment to provide innovative heart care to the community. Call 303-442-2395, or click on the red button below, to schedule a consultation with Sameer Oza, MD.

consult buttonCardiac Arrhythmia

Some minor arrhythmias are harmless.  Some can be fatal.  Some arrhythmia problems contribute to the development of a potentially life-threatening stroke or cardiac death. In fact, there are more than 250,000 sudden cardiac deaths per year, most of which are due to ventricular fibrillation, a serious type of arrhythmia. This is why proper diagnosis and treatment are vital for people with serious arrhythmias. More information about the types of arrhythmia and symptoms can be found here.

Electrophysiology Study

For most patients, arrhythmias are unpredictable and intermittent, which makes diagnosis difficult. In these situations, an electrophysiology (EP) study is the best, most accurate diagnostic tool.

Electrophysiology LabIntegrated 3D map

Boulder Community Hospital (BCH) has the only dedicated EP program in Boulder County. It is one of Colorado’s most sophisticated EP labs with an all-digital biplane cardiac imaging system and a three-dimensional cardiac mapping system. An experienced team of specially trained doctors, nurses and technicians perform all studies and procedures.

The EP study looks at the heart's electrical signals and pinpoints the cause and location of the heart rhythm problem.  Performed by certified cardiac specialists, the study diagnoses the arrhythmia and helps identify the best treatment by:

  • Predicting the risk of sudden cardiac death and other serious cardiac problems
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of using medication to control the heart rhythm disorder
  • Determining if an implantable device (for example, a pacemaker), surgery or an EP treatment is required

The procedure involves inserting flexible catheters with platinum electrodes on the tips into a patient’s veins through a small puncture.  These catheters are guided through the veins into the chambers of the heart. The electrodes record the heart’s electrical impulses and identify the nature and location of the heart-rhythm problem.

After diagnosis, treatment options are evaluated. Depending on the nature and location of the arrhythmia, treatment may include medication, implanting a defibrillator, surgery or a highly specialized EP procedure.

Electrophysiology Treatment Procedures

Our state-of-the-art lab enables us to provide the following specialized EP treatments:

  • Pulmonary vein isolation ablation – also called pulmonary vein ablation. A doctor delivers energy through catheters to the area of the atria that connects to the pulmonary vein (ostia). This energy (ablation) produces a circular scar that blocks any impulses firing from within the pulmonary vein, thereby "disconnecting" the pathway of the abnormal rhythm and preventing atrial fibrillation. In some cases, pulmonary vein ablation also may be performed in other parts of the heart such as the superior vena cava. 
  • Radiofrequency ablation – electrical energy is sent to the heart to destroy abnormal tissue that is causing an arrhythmia.

Watch a video to learn more about these procedures from electrophysiologist Sameer Oza, MD. Dr. Oza is one of a few electrophysiologists in the Denver area to offer ablation therapies for hard-to-treat heart rhythm disturbances such as atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia.

Arrhythmia Causes and Symptoms

Excessive alcohol use, cigarette smoking, caffeine, stress and intense exercise can produce a minor arrhythmia. But the most common and serious cause of arrhythmia is heart disease, with coronary artery disease, abnormal heart valve function and heart failure among the top triggers.

It is not unusual for an abnormal heart rhythm to go undetected because in some circumstances no symptoms arise. Frequently, a doctor will discover the problem during a routine examination without any patient symptoms. But normally, arrhythmias cause noticeable signs that may include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Fluttering in your chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting

Types of Arrhythmias

Common types of arrhythmias include:

Atrial FibrillationLeft Atrium Image

The heart's two upper chambers (atria) beat chaotically, irregularly and out of coordination with the two lower chambers (ventricles) resulting in an irregular and often rapid heart rate. This is the most common type of arrhythmia with more than two million Americans suffering from the condition.

Although atrial fibrillation usually isn't life-threatening, it can lead to complications such as blood clots that could, in turn, lead to stroke. This arrhythmia requires treatment.

Paroxysmal Atrial Tachycardia

The atria beat abnormally fast resulting in episodes of rapid heartbeats that begin and end abruptly. This type of arrhythmia can occur without any presence of heart disease and although unpleasant, it is usually not dangerous.

Ectopic Beats

Extra abnormal heartbeats resulting in a disruption in your heat rhythm. Most people with extra heartbeats don't need treatment unless there is underlying heart disease.

Ventricular Tachycardia and Ventricular Fibrillation

An extremely rapid or disorganized heartbeat. In ventricular fibrillation, the heart doesn’t pump.  This condition can result in death. If left untreated, ventricular tachycardia can progress to ventricular fibrillation.

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