Meat Loaf collapsed on stage recently in London. He was later diagnosed with what is called Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, and underwent surgery to correct it. Why do I mention it (other than being a fan?) – because I had the same problem. It is a congenital defect of the heart that is best described as a short circuit…Read more for more info.
The heart has a pathway in it through which an electrical impulse travels that makes the atriums – the top chambers of the heart – beat first, and then the ventricles – the lower chambers – beat second – thus the two-part beat. It takes a certain amount of time for that electrical charge to get from top to bottom, regulating the speed of the heart, allowing time for the chambers to fill with blood before contracting and pushing the blood forward.
In a person with WPW, there is a secondary pathway through the heart – extra conductive fibers that the impulse can travel through, perhaps faster than the regular path.
Typically, when the heart is under stress (at least in my case), part of the impulse will take the secondary pathway, causing the ventricles to constrict too soon, and fail to push the blood effectively. This results in Super-Ventricular Tachycardia (SVT), basically the heart beating too fast to be useful, and can cause dizziness, feinting or even in extreme cases, death.
Trust me, you should not have a pulse rate of 240 while riding a exercise bicycle, which I had before I was diagnosed. When I went to the doctor’s and underwent a stress test, my pulse jumped before the test actually started, which was not a good sign.
Current treatments are either to take beta blockers pretty much for life, or undergo non-invasive heart surgery. The surgery is done through catheters inserted in the femoral veins, and the femoral arteries if necessary. The procedure is called “ablation”, which means that they ablate, or burn away, the extra fibers. Prior to my procedure, this was done using an electrical charge, but it was difficult to focus. In about 5% of cases (as explained to me), it was necessary for the person to get a pacemaker afterward due to the true pathway being damaged as well.
When I needed it (around 1992 I think), a new experimental procedure using high frequency radio waves instead of electricity was being used at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Because the RF waves could be focused more, the incidence of needing pacemakers was much lower. In 5% of cases, the alternate pathways were close to the true pathway, but even then only 5% of THOSE cases resulted in a pacemaker.
Given my situation, they bumped someone else off the surgery schedule, the procedure was done, and I’m cured. RF ablation is now the standard method.
There, that’s my medical teaching for today.