Calcium Heart Scan Detects Blockage and Irregular Heart Rhythm
9 out of 10 patients cured with catheter ablation
One story can change the trajectory of a life.
For Tom Quinn, it was a local television news story about a quick and simple heart-health test called a coronary calcium scan. The report about this potentially lifesaving, simple scan caught Tom’s eye, and being an inquisitive and proactive person, he inquired about the screening at his next appointment with his primary care physician.
A coronary calcium scan uses X-ray imaging to discover calcium-containing plaque in the heart’s arteries. Tom’s scan, performed at the Genesis Heart & Vascular Institute, suggested significant coronary artery disease.
“I’ve never had any typical, heart-patient symptoms – no chest pains or anything,” Tom said. “But they found blockages, and then I had a stress test.”
For the stress test, Tom walked on a treadmill while connected to an electrocardiogram, also called an EKG. Meanwhile, medical professionals watched to see if blood supply adequately reached his heart’s arteries.
“As soon as Tom got on the treadmill, the team immediately found his heart was in a condition called atrial flutter. In fact, they ended the test early because of this heart rhythm problem,” said Grant Chow, M.D., electrophysiologist, Genesis Heart & Vascular Group. “The results of the screening and stress test showed that Tom had an electrical issue with his heart rhythm, as well as possible coronary heart disease, which is a heart plumbing issue.”
The Genesis Heart & Vascular Institute provides comprehensive heart care, meaning a team of specialized heart experts work side-by-side, treating all aspects of heart health.
“Our heart program has grown tremendously since we moved to the new hospital, and it’s completely changed the heart care in our area – it’s a great thing,” Dr. Chow said. “We work together, so if you have anything heart-related, we can walk down the ‘plumbing’ hallway, the ‘electrical’ hallway or the ‘imaging’ hallway to the heart specialist who is needed.”
No symptoms of a life-threatening heart issue
The average person’s heart beats between 60 and 100 times per minute. In atrial flutter, the heart races between 140 and 160 beats per minute. With atrial flutter, most people generally feel shortness of breath, chest discomfort and/or pressure. Others, like Tom, live symptom-free and oblivious to the potentially threatening issue.
“For some people atrial flutter is extremely sneaky, with no symptoms whatsoever,” Dr. Chow said. “The scary thing is their heart may race for days, weeks or months without knowing it. If we don’t catch it, folks don’t show up in the hospital until the horse is out of the barn, and the heart-pumping function has taken a fair hit. Atrial flutter can lead to heart failure or decreased heart-pumping function because the heart races for so long, at such speeds, that it tires out.”
How to treat atrial flutter with catheter ablation
Thankfully, specially trained electrophysiologists can cure atrial flutter in 9 out of 10 patients by performing a minimally invasive procedure called catheter ablation. Completed within a fully equipped electrophysiology lab, doctors use a 3D mapping system of the body while advancing a soft catheter through a vein to the heart. Once positioned at the heart, an electrophysiologist delivers a burst of electrical energy to ablate (stop) the irregular electrical signals.
“Delivering a buzz of energy usually gets rid of the short circuit causing atrial flutter – so patients can return to a normal life. We generally see success right away,” Dr. Chow said.
Tom’s atrial flutter halted immediately, thanks to catheter ablation, and he began experiencing improvements in areas he didn’t even know needed improvement.
“Our bodies are living electronic marvels – and I’m a new person because of the electrical work Dr. Chow did,” Tom said. “I have better stamina now. When I would cut the grass, I used to feel like taking it easy afterward. I don’t feel that way now. Plus, I feel mentally at ease because I know my heart is okay.”
As for Tom’s possible coronary heart disease, Mohamed Ahmed, M.D., interventional cardiologist, Genesis Heart & Vascular Group, performed a heart catheterization to further investigate the plumbing issues within Tom’s heart. Based on findings from that minimally invasive procedure, Dr. Ahmed prescribed medications to manage Tom’s coronary artery disease, and further surgery was
“My whole experience was less invasive than going to get my teeth cleaned at the dentist,” Tom said. “From the minute I walked into Genesis Hospital, everybody was welcoming and geared to make the experience as efficient and pleasurable as possible. It was a fantastic team approach.”
The Genesis Heart & Vascular Institute provides patients with preventative care, treatment and rehabilitation – for all types of heart and vascular care.
“Our new hospital stands on Maple Avenue. I see the building all the time, but I didn’t know what was in it,” Tom said. “Now I tell everybody that they need to take a tour, be inquisitive and find out the value of what we have right here. The capability and facility we have is wonderful.”