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Problems of the Electrical System

Diseases of the heart's electrical or conduction system occur in many people.  The conduction system of the heart stimulates the heart to beat, which in turn pumps blood into the body.  Many different types of malfunctions occur in this system, most of which are not serious.  In fact, most people experience "extra beats" intermittently.  This can be caused by excess caffeine intake or, for women, fluid shifts during the menstrual cycle.

Diseases of the heart's conduction system are worrisome when a person loses consciousness or if dangerous beats or rhythms are seen during tests such as an EKG.  Disturbances of the heart rhythm are typically treated with medication.  Some patients need a pacemaker if the natural mechanisms for regulating the heart beat wear out or are damaged in some way.  Radiofrequency ablation, a non-surgical procedure in the cath lab, is used to treat some types of rapid heart beating, especially Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome or supraventricular tachyarrhythmias.  Radiofrequency ablation has a success rate of more than 90 percent, a low risk of complications and the patient can resume normal activities in a few days.

Sometimes, patients with dangerous rhythms require an automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (AICD).  This device is placed surgically like a pacemaker.  However, instead of stimulating the heart to pump rhythmically as a pacemaker does, the ACID revives patients who lose consciousness because of a heart emergency.

In summary, a wide variety of diseases fall under the heading of "heart disease."  These diseases can be diagnosed and treated today in ways that would have been considered miraculous a generation ago.  Today, people are regularly surviving heart disease, and the outlook for even more effective treatments is bright.