Could That Heart Flutter Be Atrial Fibrillation?

Who hasn't experienced a racing heart on occasion?

What if your heart started racing while you were reading a book, or cooking dinner, or for absolutely no reason at all? What if it came without warning, and was accompanied by weakness and shortness of breath?

Fifty-six-year-old Dean Garnett of Frankfort knows the feeling firsthand. The energetic construction business owner and bicycling enthusiast experienced several frightening episodes of atrial fibrillation in early 2011. "My heart rate went from 90 beats per minute to 210 in four or five seconds," he said. "It was just all over the place."

"Atrial fibrillation is the most common abnormal heart rhythm, or arrhythmia," explains Andy Lin, M.D., electrophysiologist and medical director of the Electrophysiology Lab at Ingalls Memorial Hospital. "It affects two million Americans and is characterized by an irregular and often rapid heart rate."

Instead of the heart's electrical impulse traveling in an orderly fashion through the heart, impulses begin and spread throughout the atria in a rapid and disorganized manner causing an irregular heartbeat. Left untreated, atrial fibrillation can lead to blood clots and stroke.

Since medication proved ineffective for Garnett, he was treated at Ingalls with a highly sophisticated procedure called catheter ablation.

Catheter ablation is one of several arrhythmia treatments. Doctors recommend it if:

  • Medications can't control an arrhythmia
  • Prescribed arrhythmia medications can't be tolerated by a patient
  • The patient is at heightened risk for sudden cardiac arrest.

During a catheter ablation, high-frequency electrical energy is delivered through a catheter to a small area of tissue inside the part of the heart that is causing the abnormal heart rhythm. This energy "disconnects" the pathway of the abnormal rhythm, effectively curing the problem.

Garnett underwent two catheter ablations at Ingalls. The first was in 2009 to correct the right side of his heart, and the second in early 2011 to correct the left side.

Since he had his second procedure last June, the only elevated heart rate Garnett experiences is when he's taking one of his 65-mile bike rides. "The highest heart rate I've gotten to is 124, and that's when I'm going full speed," he said.

With his heart troubles behind him, the devoted husband and father of three is focused on his overall health. He's shed more than 30 pounds and hasn't had a cigarette since his heart attack almost four years ago.

See your doctor if you experience symptoms, or call 1.800.221.CARE(2273).

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