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Sharp-affiliated cardiac electrophysiologist Dr. Alborz Hassankhani works with young San Diegans who suffer unexpected and sudden cardiac arrhythmias, also referred to as abnormal heart rhythms.
While most patients who suffer from abnormal heart rhythms are fine after treatment, others experience severe symptoms, such as fainting and even sudden death. Read Dr. Hassankhani’s answers to questions about these alarming and sometimes fatal abnormalities.
What is cardiac electrophysiology?
Cardiac electrophysiology is the study, diagnosis and treatment of normal and abnormal electrical activities of the heart. A healthy heart has a normal electrical conduction system and functions through a sequence of electrical signals. Any deviation from this normal pattern is considered to be an abnormal rhythm. Patients with abnormal heart rhythms can be any age, but many of the patients I treat are healthy, young individuals.
I didn’t think healthy, young adults had to worry about heart problems. How does this happen?
Abnormal heart rhythms can occur to anyone at any age. Triggers can be anything from bending over to tie your shoe to intense physical activity. We know that adrenaline affects the electrical circuitry of the heart, which is why athletes are susceptible to cardiac arrhythmia. Many times, these patients have had cardiac abnormalities their entire lives, but when you add exercise, it’s like a bomb waiting to go off. In some cases, there isn’t a known trigger like exercise. Some people are simply born with an extra pathway in their hearts, which can lead to abnormalities later in life.
How is cardiac arrhythmia treated?
It’s important to note that most cases of cardiac arrhythmia are benign, but there are some that result in sudden death. For patients we’re able to treat, treatment options include medication, implantable devices and ablation, which is a relatively simple procedure that involves catheters. Other temporary treatment options we’ve found to work include immersing your face in cold water and the Valsalva maneuver.
What can I do to protect my child?
The most important thing you can do is to pay attention to the signs if there are any. If your child complains of chest pain, a racing heart, shortness of breath and fatigue, seek medical attention for him or her. If a doctor feels it’s necessary, an electrocardiogram (EKG) will be ordered to determine if your child is suffering from cardiac arrhythmia.
How did you become involved in such a specialized field?
I have my doctorate degree in neuroscience and I remember working on a project that involved studying arrhythmias in mice. I find the field extremely fascinating and challenging, like piecing together a puzzle.
For More Information
For more information about heart and vascular care at Sharp or to find a Sharp-affiliated doctor, search for a San Diego cardiologist or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm. To find general information about heart and vascular care, visit Cardiovascular Diseases in Adult Health or read the Heart and Cardiovascular News archive.