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Procedure could pinpoint source of arrhythmia

Vice President Cheney announced that he will undergo tests over the weekend for irregular heartbeat
Vice President Cheney announced that he will undergo tests over the weekend for irregular heartbeat  

(CNN) -- The type of diagnostic procedure vice president Dick Cheney is to undergo Saturday, an electrophysiology study, is a common one used to determine the cause of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat.

With the patient under local anesthetic, doctors run a catheter from the groin to the heart. The doctor uses the catheter to record the heart's electrical activity and to stimulate the type of arrhythmia that previously has been recorded.

The procedure is relatively safe. According to statistics from the University of Michigan, the chance of an EPS causing a heart attack, stroke, bleeding or clotting is less than one percent. Fatal complications occur in fewer than one of every 5,000 patients.

Because the patient is typically awake during the procedure, the doctor asks for a description of symptoms when the arrhythmia occurs. This description, along with the electrical recordings, helps determine how severe the irregularity is and what kind of treatment is needed.

  • Cheney to undergo more heart tests  

  • Cheney's history of heart problems  

  • Dr. Richard Pasternak on Cheney's heart procedure  

    An irregular heartbeat can cause the heart to pump less effectively.

    Cheney's doctors detected a rapid heartbeat, which can cause palpitations, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, although Cheney said Friday he had not experienced any symptoms of arrhythmia.

    If Cheney's arrhythmia is serious enough, he may have to get an ICD, or implantable cardioverter defibrillator to regulate his heartbeat.

    Find out more about irregular heartbeat:  

  • American Heart Association: Arrhythmia  

  • WebMD: Heart Arrhythmia  

    This device is usually implanted in the chest through an incision in the shoulder. It consists of a battery-powered pulse generator and several wires that are connected to the heart.

    The ICD monitors the heartbeat and sends out the appropriate pulses to regulate it. If an arrhythmia is mild, it delivers a mild signal that may not even be detected by the patient, or that may be felt as a fluttering sensation.

    If that doesn't work, the ICD sends out increasingly stronger shocks to stop the arrhythmia and restore the normal heartbeat. It can also speed up the heart rate if the pace becomes too slow.

    Other possible treatments for arrhythmia include medication, surgery or ablation. An ablation sends radio frequency energy into the part of the heart that is causing the irregular heartbeat and kills the cells that cause the problem.

    Heart experts say patients with an ICD may need to limit their activities for a few days or even weeks after implantation, depending on their condition. They may not be able to drive immediately, and should stay away from devices that create strong electric or magnetic fields.

    Household appliances, radios, televisions and personal computers are considered safe for people with an ICD. Some doctors recommend keeping cellular phones six to 12 inches away from the ICD because of the possibility the phone signal could interfere with the pacemaker.

    • American Heart Association 1999 Heart and Stroke A-Z Guide

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