Be Still My Heart | Treatment Stops Rapid Heartbeat Episodes

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) _ It started when he was 18-years old. Every three to four months, without warning, Stuart Kemble says his heart would start racing, up to 200 beats per minute.

"It would feel like my chest was being crushed," he said. "I had no way of getting it under control."

Kemble says he'd wait 30 minutes to an hour and it would stop. In recent years, though, the attacks became more frequent and lasted longer. Since his heart beat normally during doctor's visits, they never could pinpoint what was wrong. Kemble says that led to treatment for a variety of things unrelated - at one point, they suspected asthma.

Finally, he made it in during an attack and was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia. It's rapid heartbeat caused by a faulty electrical connection.

Dr. Alap Shah, a cardiac electrophysiologist with the Cotton'O'Neil Heart Center in Topeka, says most people have one way an electrical connection can get from the heart's upper chambers to its lower chambers. Some people have a normal electrical circuit, but their heart randomly sends of an extra connection, causing the rapid heartbeat. Roughly one in a thousand people, though, he says, are born with an extra connection between the top and bottom chambers which can cause an abnormal circuit to fire and, "it's kind of like the tasmanian devil running in circles around the heart."

Shah says the condition is not life threatening, but people can pass out if a longer episode causes their oxygen level to drop low enough.

"It really impacts people's lives because they don't know when it's coming," he said. "Some people have triggers, some people have no triggers."

Medications can treat minor cases, but a relatively new approach can get to the heart of the matter. Doctors are using ablation. In the procedure, Shah says doctors go through the groin to send a catheter through the vein into the heart to measure the electrical signals in different areas of the heart. Shah says doctors then put the heart into an abnormal rhythm and, within minutes, determine the origin of the abnormal circuit. That tissue is then heated to eliminate the cells causing the abnormal rhythm.

It's an outpatient procedure. Shah says patients go home in two to four hours with few restrictions. So far, 95 percent of patients who've had it report no more episodes of racing heartbeat.

Stuart is among them. He had the procedure in December. He says even though he knew the condition was not life threatening, he still worried when it happened. No, he finally has peace of mind.

"I have more energy than I've had in a long time," he said.

As for who should get the procedure, Shah said anyone who feels the condition is impacting their life should consult their doctor.


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