Heart Rhythm Test

While cath labs are often associated with the diagnosis and treatment of abnormalities of the blood supply to the heart, they are also used to diagnose and treat abnormalities of the electrical signals that are responsible for the beating of the heart. This investigation of the electrical system of the heart is called Electrophysiology.

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The heart is made up of muscle tissue that contracts in response to electrical signals which normally travel in a coordinated and repeated fashion through nerves from the top of the heart moving down to the bottom of the heart and starting over again at the top. This results in the controlled rhythmic beating of the heart that pumps the blood effectively through the body.

However in many people, there may be an abnormality in the normal nerve pathways resulting in a disruption of the regular rhythm of the heart leading to an irregular heart beat or an arrhythmia. Depending on the type of abnormality, the irregular heartbeat may have no symptoms or may result in light-headedness, fainting, pounding of the heart, dizziness and chest pain. While an irregular heartbeat can occur in people without any known heart problems it is more common in people who suffer from heart disease.

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Irregular heartbeats and ECGs

Irregular heartbeats are often first diagnosed by a doctor using a test call an Electrocardiogram or ECG which records the electrical impulses of the beating heart by taking measurements through electrodes placed on the skin of the chest, arms and legs. In some instances where the irregular heart beat only occurs on rare, unpredicted occasions, the doctor may choose for you to use a portable ECG recording device at home. The portable device can vary from a holter monitor to a small implantable loop recorder which can monitor you while you go about your normal daily activities.

The severity of the irregular heart beat varies depending on the cause and type of problem and can vary from a minor nuisance to a serious life threatening condition. While the ECG is often a good first line test to diagnose an arrhythmia, a more detailed study of the heart’s electrical system is needed for certain types of arrhythmia. These tests along with possible treatment options are carried out in a cath lab equipped for this purpose. Often the Cath Lab used for this testing is referred to as an Electrophysiology lab and the detailed test is called an Electrophysiology Study.

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