When Your Heart Starts Racing Unexpectedly

Could it be stress related? One busy, young mom finds out it could be a Heart Rhythm Disorder.

Jen Headshot (723x800) Jennifer Howze was experiencing random episodes of a racing heart rate. After three frightening experiences, she was diagnosed with SVT.

Jennifer Howze thought she was having an anxiety attack when she was rushed to the Emergency Room in June of this year. While watching her son’s baseball game, she fell unconscious at the ball field and when she woke up she felt her heart racing. In the ER, her heart rate was 230 beats per minute and she was given IV medication to slow it down. Her ER doctor advised the busy 36-year-old working mom to control her stress level and to stay hydrated.

A few weeks later, it happened again. She thought if she could remain calm, she could slow her racing heart down on her own. But she could not. After a third episode and another trip to the ER, she made an appointment with cardiologist Dr. Hari Baddigam who specializes in electrophysiology. After reviewing her electrocardiograms (ECGs), from the previous ER visits, he was able to diagnose Jennifer with Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) – a heart rhythm disorder.

“In a normal heart, electrical signals travel certain pathways in order to trigger the contraction, or pumping, of the upper and lower chambers,” said Dr. Baddigam. “These signals pass through nodes which control the heart rate, signaling when to speed up with physical activity and when to slow down when the body is at rest. In patients with SVT, these electrical signals sometimes travel down additional fibers or pathways and bypass the node, which allows an abnormally fast heart rate.” While normal adults have heart rates of 60 to 100 beats per minute, people with SVT can have episodes with heart rates of 160 to 220 beats per minute, or as in Jennifer’s case, even faster. These episodes can last minutes or hours causing palpitations, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and in rare cases, loss of consciousness.

Jennifer’s treatment options were to take medication everyday for the rest of her life to prevent or control the episodes or to have a procedure called a cardiac ablation which is a cure for the condition in 90 to 95 percent of cases. In August, Jennifer scheduled her cardiac ablation.

The ablation procedure was performed in the cardiac catheterization lab at Bay Medical Sacred Heart – the only hospital in our region with the advanced technology to provide this service. First, Dr. Baddigam mapped the electrical pathways in Jennifer’s heart and identified the location of the extra pathway causing the problem. “In order to stop the electrical signals from taking these extra pathways,” said Dr. Baddigam, “radiofrequency energy is used to ablate, or burn, a tiny area of the heart muscle which creates scar tissue that blocks the signal.” The procedure is performed through an IV line to access a vein, where a small, spaghetti-sized, flexible tube is navigated through the blood vessels to reach the heart.

Now, more than three months later, Jennifer has not had an episode since. “Initially I was still worried that it might happen again,” said Jennifer. “The previous three episodes were very scary for me and my family. Now that several months have gone by without incident, I have my peace of mind back. It was definitely worth it to have the procedure.”

Cardiac Electrophysiologists Hari Baddigam, M.D. and J. L. Trantham, M.D. with the Cardiovascular Institute of Northwest Florida are the only physicians in Panama City and the surrounding area able to perform cardiac ablations and with access to the advanced technology necessary to map the cause of heart rhythm disorders.

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