The Woodward News

March 4, 2014

Program focuses on heart arrhythmias

Rachael Van Horn
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — You know that little thump in your chest that seems harder than the other beats?

Or maybe when your heart does it, it feels like your heart is fluttering in your chest for a second.

Sometimes this means your heart skipped a beat and just a little more blood than normal pooled in the chamber, so the heart had to contract more forcefully to expel it.

That is according to Dr. Jeffery Sparling, featured speaker  at the, “I Love Your Heart” event offered by Woodward Regional Hospital on Thursday.

Sparling offered valuable information on how to recognize if you are in a group of those at an increased risk for stroke caused by an irregular heartbeat.

The event also featured Woodward eatery chef and owner, Rita Barney of Eden Café. Barney offered a demonstration in how to prepare a fresh and healthy idea for a party dip. On stage, she combined fresh corn, black beans, olive oil and avocado and several savory spices for a heart healthy, hearty dip that adheres to her three primary rules about the best way to eat.

Barney offered her audience three easy rules to follow to become healthier and happier:

First, eat whole food, not modified or processed food. Barney said anything that has been processed or packaged with words you cannot pronounce is not whole food. Your body does not recognize it as food and therefore cannot break it down for nutrition, she said.

Her second rule: Eat healthy, real fat, real butter, real cream and healthy vegetable fats like those in olive oil and avocados. Unlike the fat free disciples, Barney believes real butter and real cream and the fats in certain cuts of meat are the way to go, as long as it is in moderation. She recommends using healthy fats such as olive oil and fats from nuts in place of other fats as much as possible, but primarily warned against margarine and “fake foods” such as fat free ice cream.

Finally, Barney recommends living and eating for life.

“Eat and live and adventure that makes you happy,” she said.

 With an audience well fed, Sparling had everyone's full attention as he broke down some pretty difficult concepts to help understand different heart arrhythmias – which ones to watch out for and which ones are probably benign.

According to Sparling, in most cases, these little arrhythmias, or heart “flutters,” and moments where your heart races a little are quite normal.

But Sparling explained the difference between that harmless flutter and a problem called atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation affects millions of Americans and one in five have it and have no symptoms.

“As much as the heart is a pump, it is an electrical organ,” Sparling said. “Just like any kind of pump, it needs electricity to function.”

That means the electrical impulses driven by certain chemicals – sodium and potassium – have to function pretty well to continue creating on average the 100,000 beats of your heart per day throughout your whole life, Sparling said.

But every once in a while, some people have a disruption in how the electrical impulses tell their hearts to beat. If the heart beats too fast, it is called Tachycardia. If the heart beats too slow, it is called Bradycardia , Sparling said.

But in the case of atrial fibrillation, the heart beats in a disorganized fashion.

Errant electrical impulses signal the upper portion of the heart to beat in a disorganized fashion but the lower portion, the “right and left ventricles” continue beating at a more normal rate. This causes the heart to allow blood to pool in the atrium (or upper portion of the heart) for just a few seconds, right before it is pushed out to the two main arteries that feed the brain oxygen, Sparling said.

“And what happens when you have blood pool on your arm for a few seconds,” Sparling asked the audience. “Yes, it clots.”

According to Sparling, for this reason people who have atrial fibrillation are at a five times greater risk for having a stroke.

He said when the heart does finally have a good solid beat, it shoves the small clot out of the heart into the arteries carrying blood to the brain and the clot travels until it gets to vessels, which are too small for it to move. This is what causes the stroke.

“And your lack of symptoms of atrial fibrillation do not reduce this risk,” he said. “That means, just because you don’t have symptoms of atrial fibrillation, if you have it and don’t know it, your risks are just as great.”

So, while your little heart flutters that produce basically no other symptoms might be benign, if you have some risk factors, such as being female, or you are overweight, have diabetes or are older than 50-years-old and those little flutters are making you feel bad, you might see your physician, Sparling said.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation include shortness of breath, particularly when lying down. It also may include swelling of lower extremities, lightheadedness or the feeling you may faint or actual passing out, Sparling said.  

The resting heart rate in atrial fibrillation may range from 100 to 175 beats a minute and over 200 beats per minute when exercising, Sparling said.                                                                               

Sparling said most patients whose atrial fibrillation was the cause of their fainting are different from regular cases where someone passed out. In atrial fibrillation cases they don’t feel the fainting spell coming on.

“One minute they were walking down the hall and the next they remember, they were in the ambulance,” Sparling said. “Those are the cases we sit up and take notice of.”

Sparling said there is a wide range of treatment options for atrial fibrillation but each case is unique. Some might respond to medications and others to procedures whereby tiny electrical signal areas in the heart are burned, thereby correcting the anomaly.

Sparling sees patients in Woodward three times a month. To make an appointment call 254-8600.