Your heart depends on an internal electrical system to do its job.
This system produces electrical signals that control your heartbeat and cause blood to pump throughout the body. When electrical activity is disrupted, abnormal heart rhythms called arrhythmias can occur.
Cardiac electrophysiology is the science of evaluating, diagnosing and treating disorders of the heart’s electrical conduction system. If you have symptoms of an arrhythmia, the clinical cardiac electrophysiology team at WHS Washington Hospital can pinpoint the source of the abnormal electrical activity and treat the condition in our cardiac electrophysiology labs. We offer a variety of procedures to diagnose and treat several types of arrhythmia.
Conditions We Treat
- Atrial fibrillation (AFib). This condition is an irregular heartbeat in the atria, the heart’s upper chambers. AFib can cause blood to pool and clot in the atria, which increases your risk of stroke.
- Fast heartbeat (tachycardia). This is a condition in which the heart beats more than 100 times per minute while at rest. Normal resting heart rate varies between individuals based on age and fitness level, which are key factors in diagnosing a fast heartbeat. A fast heartbeat can arise in several areas of the heart. Ventricular tachycardia, for example, originates in the ventricles, the lower chambers of the heart.
- Slow heartbeat (bradycardia). You may have a slow heartbeat if your resting heart rate is lower than 60 beats per minute. A cardiac electrophysiologist will consider your age and fitness level when determining whether your have a slow heartbeat.
- Unexplained fainting spells (syncope). An arrhythmia can cause you to pass out if your heart can’t pump enough blood to your brain to maintain consciousness.
Cardiac Electrophysiology Procedures
To diagnose arrhythmias or gain better understanding of symptoms, our cardiac electrophysiologists perform:
- EP studies. Cardiac electrophysiologists use these procedures to find where an abnormal heart rhythm is coming from. During an EP study, a physician sends several thin tubes called catheters through a blood vessel to the heart. Once the catheters are in place, the physician uses them to send electrical signals to the muscle and records how the signals travel through the heart.
- Tilt table tests. You may need this test if you’ve experienced fainting or lightheadedness. Lying on a table that’s tilted upward may trigger those symptoms while medical providers watch, allowing them to record any changes to your heart rate—such as blood pressure—that may indicate an arrhythmia.
Many arrhythmias don’t need treatment, and others may be treated with medication. For some arrhythmias, however, the best treatment option is a procedure to destroy the tissue that’s causing the abnormal rhythm or insertion of a device that can restore a normal heartbeat. Options include:
- Catheter (radiofrequency) ablation. Using catheters, a cardiac electrophysiologist locates the tissue in the heart that’s producing an abnormal electrical signal. Using a catheter tipped with an electrode, the physician sends heat to destroy that area of tissue, which helps the heart return to a regular rhythm.
- Cryoablation. Instead of using heat to destroy tissue that triggers an arrhythmia, cryoablation uses cold. A cardiac electrophysiologist delivers cold energy to a targeted area of the heart using a balloon-tipped catheter.
- Heart rhythm devices. Our cardiac electrophysiologists insert and maintain implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) and pacemakers. Both are small devices that sit under the skin of the chest and connect to the heart via wires. An ICD keeps track of your heart rhythm and uses an electric shock to restore normal rhythm if an arrhythmia occurs. A pacemaker sends electrical pulses to the heart to encourage a normal rhythm.
- Watchman device for left atrial appendage (LAA) closure. Inserted via catheter, the Watchman implant closes the LAA, a small sac in the heart where blood clots are at risk of forming in certain people with AFib. Those clots can cause a stroke. Watchman keeps blood clots from leaving the LAA and blocking blood flow to the brain. Treatment with Watchman can eliminate the need to take blood thinners long term.