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Is Turbulence Good For The Heart?

It’s hard to believe that turbulence could be a good thing for the heart. Consider how the word turbulent is defined: “Characterized by conflict, disorder, or confusion; not controlled or calm.” Those traits don’t sound very heart-healthy. But when it comes to heart rhythm, it turns out that a turbulent response — to a premature beat — is better than a blunted one. The more turbulent the better.

No, you haven’t missed anything, and turbulence isn’t another of my typos. Until [recently], heart rate turbulence was an obscure phenomenon buried in the bowels of heart rhythm journals.

What Is Heart Rate Turbulence (HRT)?

When you listen to the heart of a young physically-fit patient, you are struck not just by the slowness of the heartbeat, but also by the variability of the rhythm. It isn’t perfectly regular, nor is it chaotic like atrial fibrillation (AF). Doctors describe this — in typical medical speak — as regularly irregular: The heart rate increases as the patient inhales and slows as he or she exhales. This variability occurs as a result of the heart’s responsiveness to its environment. The more robustly and quickly the heart responds, the healthier it is.

HRT seeks to measure how quickly and vigorously the heart rate reacts in response to a single premature beat from the ventricle — a premature ventricular contraction (PVC).  Normally after a PVC, the heart rate speeds for a few beats, and then slows back to baseline over the next 10 beats. The healthy heart responds with a more intense rise in heart rate and a quicker return to baseline. Using simple measurements of heart rate from a standard 24-hour electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor, a propriety software program averages many of these responses and comes up with a measurement of turbulence onset and turbulence slope. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

Cardiologists As “Heart Whisperers”

From the Dallas Morning News, a creative moniker if there ever was one, but it should probably be reserved for primary care specialists instead:

DALLAS — Heart attacks are the No. 1 cause of death and a major cause of disability in America. For nearly half of the casualties, the first symptom is the last. That’s how cardiovascular disease has earned the nickname “silent killer” — you never know when it will strike.

Doctors are trying to change that by treating heart disease as a progressive problem. They are becoming “heart whisperers,” seeking new tests to read the small stresses that can, unchecked, grow into big ones.

“By the time someone rolls in with a heart attack, his family will look at me bewildered, and the patient may say, ‘Doc, what happened?’” says Dr. Bruce Gordon of Heart Hospital Baylor Plano. “But it’s not what happened. It’s what’s been happening. The process has been going on for decades.”

It’s a process that can be accelerated by high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, tobacco use and secondhand smoke.

-WesMusings of a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist.

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

Pre-Heart Attack “Screening?”

Imagine: There you are sitting outside on a warm, sunny day having a leisurely picnic with your family. You hear an ambulance in the distance getting closer. You’re not on call. Suddenly, the paramedics hop from the vehicle’s cabin and pronounce:

“Excuse me sir, your heart’s not getting enough oxygen and you might develop a heart attack. Please, come with us.”

Sound far fetched? Well, maybe not. A new device is being tested that might detect “silent” ischemia and notify a patient (or even call 911) that he or she is showing signs of heart ischemia on the wire installed in his or her chest. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

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