Some people, like my patient, have dramatic and life threatening irregularities affecting their heart beat.
Others have less obvious symptoms but nevertheless need investigation and treatment.
There is a normal electrical cycle of the heart that occurs with every heartbeat. An arrhythmia occurs when this electrical cycle is disturbed. Normally, tiny electrical currents activate the top part of the heart, (the atria), just before the bottom part of the heart. These are the ventricles, the muscular chambers that pump the blood to the lungs and around the body.
The most common type of abnormality is atrial fibrillation. Here the upper chambers of the heart beat fast and irregular. This arrhythmia gets much more common with old age, and some 500,000 people in the UK have it. Even where atrial fibrillation produces few symptoms, it can give rise to an increased risk of strokes. It is the main reason why a person may find themselves on warfarin treatment. Most other arrhythmias arising from the top of the heart – supraventricular – are troublesome, but not life-threatening. Some new treatments such as using a catheter to 'zap' twitchy heart tissue now offers a virtual cure.
Many arrhythmias which arise from the bottom chambers, (ventricles), are potentially life-threatening, they can be harder to treat, and often require powerful drugs and implantable defibrillators. Sometimes similar technology called 'pacemakers' are used, here a tiny current is delivered to ensure that the heartbeat is maintained at a regular, acceptable rate. Worrying to many people are abnormalities that affect the young and which have been linked to sudden cardiac arrest and death. CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young) a charity devoted to research and prevention of such deaths will be present at the conference mentioned above. Families will have the opportunity to discuss worries concerning the risks of sudden cardiac death in their young people, find our ways in which at risk individuals can be screened and what treatments are available.