Heart arrhythmias easily treated, yet few know risks

MAYWOOD, Ill. Since she was a young girl, Sandra, 46, of Glen Ellyn, Ill., had episodes every few months when her heart started racing.

"It was like a light switch turning on," Sandra explained. "My heart would jump from 80 beats per minute to about 200 beats per minute."

When she was younger and this occurred, Sandra could carry on a conversation and pretend nothing was happening. But as an adult, the experience became more intense. Sometimes she covered it up by pretending to tie her shoe while she waited for the wildly beating heart to settle down. It could last five minutes or even as long as 30 minutes, and when it was done, she was perspiring and exhausted.

"I brought it to the attention of doctors quite often," Sandra said. She had her heart examined with electrocardiograph (ECG) in the doctor's office more than once, but no problem was detected as long as her heart was not racing.

Meanwhile, the episodes continued to get stronger. Finally, her primary care physician recommended she wear a Holter monitor, a small, portable ECG device that recorded her heart's activity continuously for 30 days, while she went about her normal activities. After two tries with the Holter monitor, the abnormal heart rhythm was finally captured on tape, and Sandra was diagnosed with arrhythmia.

Millions of Americans have arrhythmia, most of which are harmless, but certain types of arrhythmia can be life threatening, especially in combination with other heart disease. About 350,000 deaths per year in the United States are attributed to arrhythmias. Sandra's condition was diagnosed as a supraventricular tachycardia, which means that the very fast heart rate was triggered by abnormal electrical impulses originating from her upper heart chambers. It was not a particularly dangerous type. Sandra was investigating her options when she had a frightening wake-up call.

While driving in the car with her 9-year

Contact: Joanne Swanson
Loyola University Health System

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