Your Heart Questions Answered | MedStar Health

Your Heart Questions Answered

Share this
Red and blue stylized graphic of the heart.

We asked MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute Cardiologist Athanasios Thomaides, MD, FACC, to give us answers to the following common health questions he most often deals with as a cardiac electrophysiologist.

What is Tachycardia and how is it treated?

Tachycardia is a heart rhythm disorder characterized by the heart beating faster than normal, which is caused by rapid electrical signals in the heart. Because the heart muscle is beating so quickly, it can weaken the heart.

Typically, tachycardia is treated by catheter ablation, a newer process with a 70 to 80 percent success rate that replaces the use of drugs, which were less effective at a 30 to 40 percent rate of success. Ablation destroys the tissue that is causing abnormal electrical signals in the heart, stopping the arrhythmia.

Like with other heart conditions, people with tachycardia should limit their alcohol and caffeine intake, maintain a healthy weight, control their blood pressure, and treat complicating conditions, such as sleep apnea, asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

This and atrial flutter are the most common types of arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat). It can be described as a quivering of the heart and indicates an electrical problem. Atrial Flutter means around 300 beats per minute, and Atrial Fibrillation could cause heartbeats of 500 to 600 in the upper chambers, which puts the heart into a kind of electrical chaos.

Symptoms include sudden fatigue, palpitations or feeling as if your heart is racing, shortness of breath and diminished energy. People most at risk are the elderly, those with hypertension, sleep apnea, and diabetes, as well as those who smoke or consume too much alcohol and caffeine.

Sometimes, a person with atrial fibrillation does not appear to have symptoms, but the young may be at risk for passing out and older people are at risk for having a stroke.

How is Atrial Fibrillation Treated?

Treatments can range from something simple like reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption or prescribing blood thinning medication, to a more complex solution, including the installation of a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator, to a more invasive solution, including a cardiac ablation or surgery.

What is a WATCHMAN device?

A WATCHMAN is a device that is implanted in the heart during a catheter-based procedure. This new technology does not allow clots to form, thereby reducing the risk of stroke. It is a great alternative to taking blood-thinning drugs, eliminating the food and drink restrictions of these drugs, as well as the possibility of bleeding problems from these medications.

To better understand common terms used by medical professionals who treat veins and arteries, this guide should help. It is important to know these terms and work with your primary care physician to prevent these conditions, when possible.

  • Arrhythmia: Arrhythmia means an abnormal heartbeat.
  • Atrium: The upper two chambers of the heart. The top right pumps blood to the lower chamber and the top left atrium pumps oxygenated blood out into the body.
  • Blood Flow: Deoxygenated blood travels from all parts of the body through your veins, back to your heart, to be pumped into the lungs to receive oxygen. Once the blood is oxygenated, it is pumped back through and out of the heart into the body through your arteries.
  • Cardiologist: A cardiologist is a physician who is specialized in the heart.
  • Electrophysiology: This is the study of the electrical activity of your heart, which is used to find where an arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat) is coming from.
  • Pulmonary: Simply, this refers to the lungs.
  • Stroke: Cardiologists who are electrophysiologists deal with blood clots that can form in the heart and travel to the brain, reducing or completely blocking blood flow that can cause a stroke, resulting in temporary or permanent damage.
  • Ventricles: The lower two chambers of the heart. The right ventricle takes blood pumped in from the upper chamber and pumps it into the lungs and the left ventricle pumps oxygenated blood into the left atrium to travel throughout the body.