More than 850,000 people in the United States are hospitalized for an arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm) each year. Left untreated, an arrhythmia can lead to serious, sometimes life-threatening, health problems.
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common cardiac arrhythmia, affecting nearly six million Americans. When AF occurs, the upper chambers of the heart quiver rapidly and irregularly and may cause symptoms such as sudden pounding or fluttering of the heart, dizziness, shortness of breath, and chest discomfort.
AF is typically not life threatening, but it can lead to other health problems, including chronic fatigue and congestive heart failure. Sometimes the condition can cause a stroke. Stroke can occur when a clot forms from blood that pools in the left atrium (upper chamber) due to the atrium’s inability to empty blood completely into your left ventricle. If this clot enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain, it can block an artery and cause a stroke. Not everyone with AF will have a stroke, but your risk of stroke is elevated if you have the condition.
Cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in this country, effecting approximately 350,000 Americans per year. Although often called a heart attack, most sudden deaths are due to a life-threatening arrhythmia of the ventricles (lower chambers) known as ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia.
The Heart Rhythm Disorders Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) is staffed by an expert team of electrophysiologists – cardiologists who have extensive training in the diagnosis and treatment of heart rhythm problems – many of whom are international experts on arrhythmias.
Electrophysiologists use certain invasive procedures to study the heart’s electrical system, such as placing electrode catheters into the heart to diagnose arrhythmias or to access the heart for treatment. They also implant devices, such as pacemakers, implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs), and cardiac resynchronization devices (CRTs).
Medications remain the frontline arrhythmia treatment for some abnormally fast heart rates, including atrial fibrillation. Antiarrhythmics allow physicians to stabilize the heartbeat and prevent serious complications by returning the heart to a normal rhythm.
This procedure is used for patients who have persistent atrial fibrillation and involves sending an electrical current through the chest wall to “reset” the heartbeat to a normal rhythm.
Patients who come to Brigham and Women’s Hospital have access to the latest innovations in both implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) and pacemaker therapy. For patients with recurring heart rhythm disturbances, these implantable devices can provide automatic electrical therapy on a continual basis and prevent life-threatening arrhythmias. Devices include:
In addition, Brigham and Women’s Hospital is an international referral center for the management of device leads, the wires that connect the device to the heart.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital is an international leader in performed catheter ablation procedures. Some patients with heart rhythm disturbances do not respond adequately to treatment with medication, and for other arrhythmia patients, therapy with medications is not as safe or appropriate as more definitive treatment. Catheter ablation is a procedure used to selectively eliminate (damage or get rid of) the heart cells causing the arrhythmia. In many cases catheter ablation can be a curative procedure. Arrhythmias amenable to ablation include:
Brigham and Women’s Hospital is one of few centers to offer an open surgical approach to a wide variety of arrhythmias. Sometimes these procedures can be done as part of a complementary cardiac surgical procedure, such as cardiac bypass surgery or heart valve repair or replacement. Other times the procedure is done primarily as the arrhythmia treatment. Open surgery for arrhythmias usually is done only when all other appropriate options, including minimally invasive surgical procedures, have failed.
For nearly a century, Brigham and Women’s Hospital has been at the epicenter for innovation and discovery in cardiovascular care and research.
Our Heart & Vascular Center continues to be poised for the future and will lead the way in shaping cardiovascular care in years to come. The way we deliver care to our patients within our state-of the-art Carl J. and Ruth Shapiro Cardiovascular Center – integrating all of our cardiovascular services to create a truly collaborative environment that fosters teamwork amongst all of our specialists – will serve as a catalyst for groundbreaking advances in heart and vascular care and research.
BWH has long been committed to not only the care of our patients but also the many other needs that they and their families have. This philosophy of patient- and family-focused care – involving systems and services that emphasize healing in a comfortable, relaxed environment – is a guiding force behind the care we provide at the Center.
BWH is committed to providing all of our patients with the safest, highest-quality, most-satisfying care possible and follow established protocols that have been shown to improve patient outcomes. Our Inpatient Satisfaction Survey, sent to patients’ to assess their total care experience, helps us to monitor what we are doing well and where we could improve. We pride ourselves in the Quality of Patient Care we provide and how we compare with other hospitals.
The Heart Rhythm Disorders team is committed to patients and their families. Each patient's diagnosis and arrhythmia treatment plan will be designed and tailored to their needs. Our team of highly skilled doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals work together to deliver the highest quality care to every patient.
If you believe you should have an evaluation and would like to schedule an appointment with one of our arrhythmia treatment experts, call 1-800-294-9999 to speak to one of our knowledgeable coordinators who can help to connect you to the doctor that best meets your needs, or fill out an online appointment request form.