WebMD Health News
Michael W. Smith, MD
Louise Chang, MD
Nov. 27, 2007 -- Vice President
Dick Cheney was treated for an irregular heartbeat. The condition was found
after Cheney visited his doctor for a lingering cough from a cold.
"During examination he was incidentally found to have an irregular
heartbeat, which on further testing was determined to be atrial fibrillation, an
abnormal rhythm involving the upper chambers of the heart," Cheney spokeswoman
Megan Mitchell told the Associated Press.
Cheney had a procedure on
Monday called electrical cardioversion, which is used to shock the heart back
into a normal rhythm. This is a common treatment for atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation, which is
more common among people with heart disease, occurs when the
upper chambers of the heart beat erratically. Cheney has previously had
several heart attacks, quadruple bypass heart surgery, and procedures to clear
clogged arteries (angioplasty).
An electrical impulse was used to
restore the upper chambers to normal rhythm. The procedure went smoothly and
without complication. The vice president returned to work on Tuesday, a Cheney
spokesperson told reporters.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of irregular heartbeat. It is
found in about 2.2 million Americans. In people with atrial fibrillation, the
electrical impulse that controls the heartbeat does not travel in an orderly
fashion through the heart. Instead, many impulses begin simultaneously and
spread erratically and irregularly through the heart. The firing of these
impulses results in a disorganized heartbeat.
Some people with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms at all. It's unclear if
Cheney was having symptoms of his atrial fibrillation. If you have symptoms,
they may include:
Many people live for years with atrial fibrillation without problems.
However, with atrial fibrillation, the top chambers of the heart beats
so rapidly -- essentially quivering -- that blood does not flow through
them as quickly. This makes the blood more likely to clot. If the clot is
pumped out of the heart, it can travel to the brain, resulting in a stroke. Atrial fibrillation can
also decrease the heart's pumping ability.
For these reasons, doctors often use cardioversion to electrically shock the
heart back into a normal rhythm.
While not immediately life threatening, longstanding atrial fibrillation
does increase the likelihood of death.
Atrial fibrillation is usually treated with medicine or with cardioversion.
The goal is to restore the heart back to a normal, regular heartbeat. Treatment
depends on the condition of the person's heart and any symptoms.
Cardioversion frequently restores a normal rhythm, although its effect may
not be permanent. After a short-acting anesthesia is given, a machine is used
to deliver specific amounts of energy (an electric shock) through electrode
patches placed on the chest to synchronize the heartbeat and restore a normal
rhythm. Although this procedure only takes a few seconds, several attempts may
be needed to restore a normal rhythm.
SOURCE: White House web site.
Wire reports. UptoDate: Overview of the presentation and management of
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