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. 

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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 heart rhythm disorders

There are different types of heart rhythm disorders, including: 

  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Supraventricular tachycardia
  • Ventricular tachycardia

Atrial fibrillation 

Atrial fibrillation, 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 rhythm disorders

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

The expert physicians at MU Health Care Heart and Vascular Center offer the only ablation procedures in mid-Missouri. In this minimally invasive procedure, your physician makes a small incision in your groin. Using X-ray guidance, the physician then moves a tiny plastic tube (a catheter) through the incision and up into your heart. Once in your heart, our physicians use specialized tools to heat up the small sections of the heart that cause rhythm problems. The heat destroys tissues so they can’t cause any more issues.

At MU Health Care, we also offer radiation-free ablation procedures. Instead of using X-ray guidance, our physicians use advanced technology and 3D heart mapping to guide the catheter into your heart. This technology helps reduce your exposure to radiation while still offering the benefits of minimally invasive techniques.

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.