When your heart is healthy, it beats in a strong, steady rhythm. While it might go faster when you exercise or slow down when you rest, your heart always keeps a steady beat. If your heart doesn’t beat in a regular rhythm, you have an irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia. 

photo of afib doctor

At University of Missouri Health Care, our heart care experts diagnose and treat all types of rhythm disorders. We work with you to create a personalized treatment plan that is right for you and your particular circumstances. Our cardiologists and electrophysiologists offer the latest treatments to get your heart back into rhythm. 

Types of arrhythmia 

There are different types of arrhythmia, including: 

  • Atrial fibrillation (AFib)
  • Supraventricular tachycardia
  • Ventricular tachycardia

Atrial fibrillation (AFib)

Atrial fibrillation (AFib), the most common type of rhythm disorder, occurs when the electrical signals in your heart become irregular, causing the upper part of your heart (the atria) to quiver (fibrillate). 

When you have atrial fibrillation, your heart can’t properly pump your blood. Blood can pool in your atria, leading to dangerous blood clots. These blood clots can move from the heart to the brain, where they can cause a stroke. Atrial fibrillation also weakens your heart, leading to heart failure.

Conditions that strain your heart, like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, a heart attack or heart valve disease, can cause atrial fibrillation. 

Supraventricular tachycardia symptoms

People with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) experience random episodes of very fast heartbeats due to a problem with their heart’s electrical system.

Ventricular tachycardia symptoms

People with ventricular tachycardia (VT) experience a fast, regular heartbeat in the lower part of the heart. When the heart beats too fast, it can’t pump the blood to the rest of your body. 

VT is usually caused by another heart condition. If it’s not treated, VT may get worse and lead to an irregularly fast heartbeat (ventricular fibrillation), a leading cause of sudden cardiac death.

Diagnosis and treatment of arrhythmia

At MU Health Care, we accurately diagnose rhythm disorders using electrocardiograms (EKG), echocardiograms (ECG) and lab tests to identify arrhythmias.

Your health care team partners with you to determine the best treatment options for your needs. We offer comprehensive surgical and nonsurgical care for rhythm disorders, giving you access to the advanced care that’s right for you. 

Medicines

At MU Health Care, our physicians conduct research to develop new, effective medicines for atrial fibrillation. These medicines keep your heart in rhythm by slowing your heart rate, controlling electrical signals or lowering your blood pressure. 

Medicines can also help prevent strokes by preventing blood clots from forming. 

We commonly use medicines such as:

  • Antiarrhythmic medicines
  • Beta blockers
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Blood thinners

Ablation procedures

Ablation is not open-heart surgery but a minimally invasive procedure done in the cath lab. Patients usually stay overnight in the hospital and are discharged the next day.

During an ablation procedure, a uniquely designed catheter with a radiofrequency tip is inserted into a blood vessel — usually in the groin — and guided to the upper chambers of the heart. The tip of the catheter is then gently placed against the heart, and the heat from the radiofrequency generated at the tip of the catheter scars the heart tissue area that is sending abnormal electrical signals. Once the abnormal electrical signals are blocked, the heart returns to a normal rhythm.

MU Health Care has the latest technology that makes ablations safer. With the help of 3D heart mapping, the catheter can be guided to the heart using little or no fluoroscopy, which limits or eliminates a patient’s exposure to radiation.

LAA closure procedure

For AFib patients who do not tolerate blood thinners, MU Health Care is the only hospital in the region to offer a left atrial appendage (LAA) closure procedure. It’s a minimally invasive surgery that drastically reduces the chance of strokes for patients with nonvalvular AFib.

The left atrial appendage — a small pouch connected to the upper left chamber of the heart — is where 90 percent of clots form in AFib patients. The Watchman device serves as a small umbrella, blocking the left atrial appendage. During an LAA closure procedure, a catheter is inserted in the femoral vein in the groin and threaded to the heart. The cardiologist, with the help of ultrasound imaging, guides the catheter tip to the left atrial appendage and deposits the device. After six weeks, patients have a follow-up visit to make sure the heart’s lining has grown over the device, forming a solid barrier so clots can’t escape. At that point, patients can start being weaned off blood thinners.

Pacemakers and defibrillators

Based on your condition, our physicians may also suggest that you receive a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to keep your heart rhythm regular. These battery-powered devices are small, about the size of a pocket watch. Your surgeon uses a minimally invasive procedure to implant the devices into your chest and connect a tiny lead wire from device to your heart.

At MU Health Care, we offer the latest pacemaker technology, an inch-long leadless pacemaker that is implanted directly into your heart. This pacemaker is not widely available and may function more efficiently than a pacemaker with a lead.

An ICD sends an electrical signal to your heart if it detects a dangerously irregular heartbeat. These devices can prevent sudden cardiac death in people with heart rhythm disorders caused by birth defects of the heart such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. 

Cardiac device monitoring

If you have a pacemaker or defibrillator, you will need to see your MU Health Care cardiologist regularly. During these appointments, your physician will check the device to ensure it’s working correctly and see if the battery needs to be replaced. Between appointments, you may also send information from your cardiac device to your physician via telephone or online.