February 1st, 2018

Electrophysiology: An Electrician for Your Heart

In many ways, your body is like a machine, full of interconnected parts that rely on each other to function smoothly. And the “electrical box” in this intricate machine is your heart.

Your heart uses electricity to beat properly. When something goes wrong with your heart’s electrical system, you need a heart “electrician” to fix it. This is the job of an electrophysiologist.

What is electrophysiology?

Some basic electrophysiology terms:

  • Cardiac electrophysiology is the study of the electrical currents of the heart muscle. These currents make sure that each heartbeat is coordinated and controlled.
  • Electrophysiologists are heart rhythm specialists. An electrophysiologist completes a cardiology fellowship and then undergoes one to two years of additional fellowship training in electrophysiology.
  • Heart arrhythmias are problems with your heart’s electrical pacing. For example, you may have atrial fibrillation, where your heart beats too fast.

Understanding heartbeats

Your heart is divided into four parts:

  • Left and right sides
  • Upper chambers (atria) and lower chambers (ventricles)

Each time your heart beats, an electrical signal travels through your heart. Your heart responds by pumping blood throughout the body.

Types of heart arrhythmias

An arrhythmia is any type of irregularity in your heartbeat. Arrhythmias include:

  • Atrial fibrillation, or Afib, is one of the most common types of arrhythmias. The atria beat irregularly, or quiver, instead of beating normally.
  • Premature, or extra, beats, are also very common. Symptoms may feel like a fluttering in your chest.
  • Bradycardia is a slow heart rate.
  • Tachycardia is a very fast heart rate
  • Ventricular fibrillation, or v-fib, is the most serious arrhythmia. During v-fib, your ventricles quiver and the heart can’t pump blood. This can lead to cardiac arrest.

Take a tour of an EP lab

Electrophysiologists diagnose and treat arrhythmias in specialized electrophysiology (EP) labs equipped with advanced cardiac diagnostic equipment. Your electrophysiologist will conduct the tests and interpret the results.

In an EP lab, you will often see:

  • Preparation area. Here, your team prepares you for your procedure, including blood work, an electrocardiogram (EKG) and a physical examination.EP lab and procedure room. The main area of the lab has:A control room, for observation
  • X-ray equipment
  • Monitoring and diagnostic equipment
  • Tilt table area, to perform a tilt table test (a test to diagnose unexplained fainting)
  • Procedure room for treatment procedures
  • Recovery area. This area is for care immediately following your procedure.

If you suspect something is not right with your heart—you feel your heart racing, or feel sluggish and tired—make an appointment with an experienced electrophysiologist. With the proper diagnosis and treatment, you can get back to doing the things you love.