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Heart Rhythm Conditions We Treat

Our expert team of electrophysiologists specializes in treating heart rhythm disorders, including managing complex conditions and high-risk patients. These dedicated physicians work with you to identify your specific condition and explain all potential treatment options.

Atrial fibrillation/atrial flutter
Supraventricular tachycardia
Ventricular tachycardia
Sudden cardiac arrest
Heart block
Hypertophic cardiomyopathy
Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular trachycardia
Bradycardia
Palpitations
Syncope
Device malfunction and infection
Genetic heart rhythm conditions

Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disorder, and one of the most difficult to manage. Atrial fibrillation occurs when erratic/irregular electrical impulses in the sinus node (located in the upper chambers of the heart) disrupt the normal electrical pathway through the rest of the heart.

During atrial fibrillation, the heart beats too fast and prevents the ventricles from adequately filling with blood, resulting in a lower blood flow to the body and a higher risk for clots, stroke or heart failure. Proper treatment reduces the risk for serious problems. « Learn more about our expertise with atrial fibrillation management.

Supraventricular tachycardia

Tachycardia is a term for the category of heart rhythm disorder characterized by an above average heart rate. When a patient has supraventricular tachycardia, rapid heartbeats begin in the upper chambers of his/her heart. This erratic heartbeat can result in insufficient blood flow throughout the body and to vital organs. There are multiple types of supraventricular tachycardia, including:

  • Atrioventricular nodal reentrant tachycardia (AVNRT): Atrioventricular (AV) nodal reentrant tachycardia can occur without prior heart disease or the presence of an underlying heart condition. During AVNRT, an extra electrical pathway develops near the AV node and causes interference with the existing pathway, resulting in the two electrical impulses continuously entering and exiting the AV node, forming an electrical loop.
  • Atrial tachycardia: With atrial tachycardia, an electrical signal originates from the atria (upper chambers), but not from the sinus node. This additional electrical impulse causes the heartbeat to speed up to an above average rate.
  • Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome: WPW syndrome causes an extra, abnormal electrical pathway in both the atria and the ventricles. The electrical signal from the upper chambers arrives early to the lower chambers and is transmitted back to the upper chambers. The signal bounces back and forth between the upper and lower regions of the heart, resulting a very fast heartbeat.

Ventricular tachycardia

Ventricular tachycardia occurs when the electrical signals are sent to the ventricles too early, causing an abnormally fast heart rate -- around 170 beats per minute. Ventricular tachycardias are typically caused by an underlying heart condition, such as heart valve disease, cardiomyopathy or coronary artery disease.

Sudden cardiac arrest

Sudden cardiac arrest is an abrupt, unexpected loss of heart function. Sudden cardiac arrest usually results from an electrical disturbance in your heart that disrupts or prevents the heart muscles from contracting, effectively stopping blood flow to the rest of your body. If not treated immediately, sudden cardiac arrest can be fatal.

Heart block

When a patient experiences a heart block, the electrical signal that controls the heartbeat becomes partially or completely blocked. This can happen spontaneously or can occur when the antiventricular node is damaged during surgery. A damaged AV node prevents the signal from passing from the atria (upper chambers) and traveling to the ventricles (lower chambers) and stops blood from being pumped out to the rest of the body.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is an inherited disease of the heart muscle, causing the wall of the muscle to thicken and making it harder to pump blood efficiently. Since this thickening of the heart muscle makes it harder for the heart to contract, HCM can affect a patient's heart rhythm, causing it to become irregular.

Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia

This is an inherited condition that occurs when patients have heart rhythm abnormalities triggered by emotion or exercise that can cause fainting or death.

Bradycardia

Bradycardia is characterized by a slower than average heart rate -- below 60 beats per minute -- and can vary widely in severity. However, the slower heartbeat associated with bradycardia can become a serious issue if the heart is unable to pump a sufficient amount of blood to the vital organs. Bradycardia can be a result of infection, damage to the heart or another underlying condition.

Palpitations and irregular heartbeats

Heart palpitations are when a person experiences the feeling of an irregular or erratic heartbeat, such as pounding, racing, fluttering or skipped beats. These sensations can be felt in the chest, neck or throat. Palpitations can occur while being active or at rest, and though they can be alarming, they do not always indicate the presence of a serious condition.

  • Premature ventricular contraction (PVC) is an "extra heartbeat" that originates in the lower chambers of the heart. During this extra beat, the ventricle contracts too soon and is often strong enough to be felt.

Syncope

When a person has syncope there is a sudden decrease in blood flow to the brain, causing a him/her to faint or lose consciousness. This can be the result of a drop in heart rate or blood pressure, an arrhythmia or a blockage. Syncope can be a sign of a more serious condition, and you should seek medical attention after experiencing any sudden fainting.

Device malfunction and infection

Sometimes heart rhythm devices, such as pacemakers and defibrillators, can malfunction or a patient can develop an infection at the implant site. Malfunctions include battery failures, repositioning, damaged circuit controls or improper programming. Signs that a device may not be functioning properly include a change in heart rate (slower or faster), loss of consciousness, palpitations or dizziness.

Patients might also experience an infection around the implant. Typically, infections occur within the first year of implantation and are caused by bacteria in the body. A high fever or pain and swelling at the device site are indications that you might have an infection. Those experiencing symptom should seek medical attention promptly to prevent the infection from spreading to other vital organs.

Specialists with the Center for Arrhythmia Care are highly skilled at lead extraction for malfunctioning or infected devices. « Read more about lead management.

Genetic heart rhythm conditions

While many heart rhythm disorders are caused by the presence of an existing medical condition, some arrhythmias are inherited genetically. A family history of arrhythmia could help predict the likelihood of developing a heart rhythm condition later in life.

At the University of Chicago Medicine, we offer genetic counseling to help you understand your risk of arrhythmia. Some common inherited conditions are:

  • Long QT syndrome:  A disorder that can cause fast, erratic heartbeats. If left untreated, the raid heart rate can lead to fainting or even sudden death.
  • Arrhthmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD): A rare condition in which the heart muscle in the right ventricle is replaced by fatty or fibrous tissue. Because of this, the ventricle cannot contract properly. ARVD can lead to arrhythmias, heart failure and even sudden cardiac arrest.
  • Brugada syndrome: A potentially life-threatening heart rhythm disorder that causes arrhythmias in the lower chambers of the heart (ventricular arrhythmias).