Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — There are doctors who take care of the plumbing in the heart and then there are doctors who worry about the electrical connections that make it pump.
"If you don't have the electrical system to get the heart going, then it won't work at all," said Dr. Brian Crandall, an Intermountain Medical Center cardiac electrophysiologist. He said a natural pacemaker, called the sinus node, initiates the heartbeat, spreading it through the upper chamber and then the lower chamber, "and that's how the heart works."
But sometimes, the heart doesn't work as it should, resulting in abnormal heart beats, called arrhythmias.
"Normally, the heart will change rates. When you exercise, have a fever or if you're nervous about something, your heart will speed up, but arrhythmias happen when the heart gets going fast in a situation where it is not normal to speed up, or it goes at a rate faster than you'd expect," Crandall said.
Arrhythmias can arise from genetic defects or can be acquired, resulting from damage caused to the heart by heart attacks. The heart can get going so fast that it stops working. Along the way, a person might collapse or pass out because their heart is not effectively pumping enough blood to the brain. But Crandall said a person generally can tell when something's not right.
"I think people have a natural sense that it can be potentially dangerous," he said. "People get worried about it."
When dealing with the heart, the specialist said it is always a good idea to have something out of the ordinary checked out by a physician. At the Intermountain Medical Center's Heart Institute, he said a variety of specialists are available to provide "one-stop shopping" to patients needing more than one heart health service.
The heart's rhythm can be detected using an electrocardiogram, or EKG. It's a pretty reliable test that hasn't changed much in the last century, but Crandall said newer technology exists to get more specific information about the heart's electrical signals once an arrhythmia has been diagnosed.
Arrhythmias are more common as a person ages, but they can occur at any age.
"Some are common and benign and not much to worry about, whereas some arrhythmias are potentially lethal and a big deal that require major interventions," Crandall said. He said that arrhythmias can be fixed and the rapidly advancing field of cardiology is helping to repair more than ever before.
Crandall and Dr. Edward Miner, an interventional cardiologist, will answer questions from the public regarding heart health during Saturday's Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline. Those interested in free advice can call 1-800-925-8177 or post a question online at www.facebook.com/desnews between 10 a.m. and noon Saturday.
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Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline
Saturday: A look at arrhythmias
The Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline focuses on surviving heart disease and other heart-related issues. From 10 a.m. to noon, Dr. Brian Crandall and Dr. Edward Miner, both of Intermountain’s Heart Institute, will answer questions. Call 1-800 925-8177, toll-free, or post questions online at www.facebook.com/desnews.
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