If you've been diagnosed with a heart rhythm disorder, you might know about cardiac electrophysiology. In most cases, this field of study is used to diagnose and treat certain heart conditions that affect the electrical activity of the heart muscle. Most often, these kinds of tests are performed on older people, but younger people with congenital heart conditions can also benefit from the diagnostic and therapeutic capabilities of this treatment area.
Understanding Cardiac Electrophysiology
It's important to understand how the heart's electrical system works. Heart muscle contains specialized cells capable of producing electrical impulses. In healthy hearts, these impulses spread in a predictable pattern, causing the heart muscle to contract and pump blood. However, if you have a cardiac rhythm disorder, or arrhythmia, the electrical signals don't spread throughout the heart muscle as they should.
Electrophysiology studies (EPS) are performed to test the electrical activity of your heart. Using specialized catheter tubes that can transmit electrical impulses, doctors can see where the electrical signals in your heart start and travel to. This can help them locate the exact area of your heart that's the source of the problem.
If your doctor determines where your arrhythmia starts, they may be able to treat your condition during the same procedure. In many cases, doctors destroy the small area of tissue in the heart that's causing arrhythmias in a low-risk procedure called catheter ablation. Depending on the type of rhythm disorder you have, your doctor may be able to implant a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which help monitor and correct your heart's arrhythmia when it begins.
What to Expect From Cardiac Electrophysiology
If you're having an EPS performed, here's what you should know about the procedure. Your EPS will be performed in a specialized area of the hospital. When you arrive, your nurse will insert an intravenous line (IV) into your arm, and you'll be given a medication to help you relax. However, you'll be awake and able to communicate during the procedure.
Your doctor will decide where in your body to insert the catheters. In most cases, this is a blood vessel in your groin, but it could also be your arm or neck. You will receive a shot of local anesthetic at the selected area, and then your doctor will insert the catheters into a blood vessel and guide them gently to your heart muscle.
After performing the test and any appropriate treatments, your doctor will gently remove the catheters and IV. Before you leave the hospital, you'll spend some time in a recovery room to ensure you're not bleeding and that the medication you were given has worn off. Your doctor will give you instructions to follow at home, including information about things you should watch out for, and how you can learn the results of your test.
This type of procedure is invaluable in giving your doctor the information needed to diagnose and correct your heart rhythm disorder. While you may be anxious about your EPS, it's important that you follow your doctor's recommendations before and during the test. If you have questions at any point during this process, don't hesitate to ask. The journey toward better heart health is one you and your doctor take together.