The Medical Minute: Putting the freeze on abnormal heart beats

February 25, 2009 By Mario D. Gonzalez,

( -- In some people, the heart has a tendency to race due to abnormal electrical signals that tell the heart muscle when to contract. Abnormal electrical activation of the heart with changes in the rate or regular pace is called arrhythmia. This may happen even though the heart is otherwise normal.

The problem may be a short circuit due to an abnormal electrical connection between the upper and lower chambers of the heart. This is called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. In some people, the short circuit develops in the normal electrical connection located between the upper and lower chambers. This is called AV node re-entry. Still others are born with or develop an extra pacemaker that sometimes fires very rapidly, also called atrial tachycardia.

As we get older, the normal electrical activation in the heart’s upper chambers may become chaotic, which results in an arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation results in a rapid and irregular rhythm that is associated with palpitation, shortness of breath and other symptoms. The most serious complication of this arrhythmia is stroke, which may occur in some people.

A patient who has suffered one or more heart attacks over the years may develop an arrhythmia that originates from the heart’s main pumping chamber—the left ventricle. This arrhythmia is called ventricular tachycardia and can result in fainting and even sudden death.

Many of the abnormal electrical signals that result in arrhythmias can now be cured or improved with a procedure called catheter ablation. This procedure is done in an electrophysiology laboratory under sedation. Thin wires (catheters) are placed in veins in the groin and precisely advanced inside the heart.

First, specialized doctors (electrophysiologists) pinpoint the abnormal electrical connections or scar tissue that is causing the arrhythmia. Then the catheter delivers freezing temperatures, or in most cases heat, to these abnormal areas to destroy them, thus preventing the recurrence of the arrhythmia. The success of this procedure ranges from 65-95 percent, depending on the type of arrhythmia and the extent of the problem.

Once corrected, most patients can resume a normal life within days of the procedure. Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute has the most advanced equipment and experienced electrophysiologists who perform these procedures on a daily basis. To learn more, visit .

Mario D. Gonzalez is a professor of medicine at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine and program director of electrophysiology at the Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute.

Provided by Penn State

Explore further: Should athletes with cardiovascular diseases play sports?

Related Stories

Should athletes with cardiovascular diseases play sports?

February 27, 2018
In 2012, Olympic gold medalist swimmer Dana Vollmer set a world record even as a genetic condition threatened to stop her heart at any moment. She has long-QT syndrome, one of several inherited heart diseases that can send ...

First study of heart 'maps' for kids could help correct rapid rhythms

July 23, 2012
The first study of a procedure to make three-dimensional "maps" of electrical signals in children's hearts could help cardiologists correct rapid heart rhythms in young patients, according to new research presented at the ...

Study compares manual versus robotic approach to treating dangerous heart arrhythmia

June 15, 2016
Whether ablation of the highest-risk heart arrhythmia is best handled by a robot or the hands of an electrophysiologist should be answered by an international comparison of the two.

Nerve stimulation in neck may reduce heart failure symptoms

October 30, 2013
A multidisciplinary team of experts in heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia, and neurosurgery at The Mount Sinai Hospital are now testing nerve stimulation in the neck as a novel therapy for heart failure patients to potentially ...

New method to diagnose heart arrhythmias developed

May 9, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Abnormalities in cardiac conduction, the rate at which the heart conducts electrical impulses to contract and relax, are a major cause of death and disability around the world. Researchers at Columbia ...

Researchers uncover how a faulty gene can trigger fatal heart condition

June 10, 2015
University of Manchester research presented today at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference has revealed how a faulty gene can cause fatal abnormal heart rhythms that are brought on by exercise.

Recommended for you

First proof a synthesized antibiotic is capable of treating superbugs

March 23, 2018
A "game changing" new antibiotic which is capable of killing superbugs has been successfully synthesised and used to treat an infection for the first time—and could lead to the first new class of antibiotic drug in 30 years.

Scientists identify potential drug target in blood-feeding hookworms

March 22, 2018
In hookworms that infect and feed on the blood of mice, scientists have discovered a key step in blood digestion that can be targeted to disrupt the parasite's development and survival. These findings, published in PLOS Pathogens ...

Global burden of low back pain—a consequence of negligence and misinformation

March 21, 2018
A series of groundbreaking papers from Australian and international researchers in The Lancet, published today (22/3) warns that low back pain is a major health burden globally - across developed and developing nations - ...

Microscopic 'shuttles' transport enzyme from cells to trigger onset of kidney disease

March 21, 2018
A new study involving the University of Sheffield has identified a key culprit in the onset of kidney disease in a major marker for kidney disease development.

Metabolite therapy proves effective in treating C. difficile in mice

March 20, 2018
A team of UCLA researchers found that a metabolite therapy was effective in mice for treating a serious infection of the colon known as Clostridium difficile infection, or C. difficile.

Study of COPD patients has created a 'looking glass' into genome of pathogen

March 19, 2018
Decades of work on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) at the University at Buffalo and the Veterans Affairs Western New York Healthcare System have yielded extraordinary information about the pathogen that does ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.