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April 12, 1996 - Image 58

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-04-12

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101 -


When Heart Marches
To Different Drums


t first, Carol Garcia ig-
nored her symptoms.
Sometimes her heart
would race. She felt de-
pressed and cried easily. She
often felt ready to faint and was
constantly tired.
"I'd come home from work and
go to bed with my clothes on; I
was that tired," recalls Ms.
Garcia, normally a cheerful and
energetic woman. She blamed
her physical problems on
About 18 months before the
symptoms began, her husband
had died. She had moved from
Wisconsin to Illinois to live with
her son. Her grief, plus the re-
location, were taking a physical
toll, she thought.
Then, on Thanksgiving Day
three years ago, she suddenly
blacked out. Her son and daugh-
ter-in-law took her to the hospi-
tal, where she was diagnosed
with atrial fibrillation — rapid,
chaotic electrical activity in the
upper chambers of the heart.
After a period of drug treat-
ment, Ms. Garcia, 62, now has a
pacemaker implanted in her
chest. The silver dollar- sized, bat-
tery-operated device serves as a
"backup" to her heart's natural
system for regulating electrical
impulses. Like most pacemaker
patients, she has no physical re-
"Most people are so surprised
when I tell them I have a pace-
maker," she says. "They think
you can't be active when you
have one, but it's not a handi-
Not only is Ms. Garcia on her
feet a good part of the day as a
full-time salesperson at Sears,
she bowls and swims, volunteers
with several charities and is
active in Springfield, Ill., in the
Newcomers Club, Lions Club
and Order of the Eastern
Many people, at one time or
another, experience an irregular
heartbeat, or arrhythmia.
"Ninety percent of the time,
there is no cause for alarm," says
Dr. Kriegh Moulton, the cardiac
electrophysiologist who im-
planted Ms. Garcia's pacemak-
er. "On occasion, a person might
experience skips, jumps or flip-
flops. It's really very common to
feel them. But it's not common
to feel them all the time."
Some arrhythmias are so brief
(such as a temporary pause or
premature beat) that the overall
heart rate isn't greatly affected.

Jack Williams writes for Copley
News Service.

If the irregularity, however, lasts
for some time, it may cause the
heart to beat too fast or slow.
A human adult heart normal-
ly beats 60 to 100 times per
minute. The term "bradycardia"
describes a rate of fewer than 60
beats per minute; "tachycardia"
usually refers to a rate of more
than 100 beats per minute.
Arrhythmia has a number of
causes, most having to do with
deviations in the electrical im-
pulses that control the beating
of the heart. An electrocardio-
gram is the standard clinical tool
for diagnosing arrhythmia. Once

Patients have a
variety of reactions
to the thuds, flutters
and palpitations of
the heart.

arrhythmia has been docu-
mented, physicians seek to de-
termine whether it is abnormal
or merely reflects the heart's nor-
mal physiologic processes. They
try to find out where in the heart
chamber the irregularity is orig-
Whether the condition needs
to be medically treated depends
on the severity of symptoms and
the risk of complications.
Dr. Moulton says patients
have a variety of reactions to the
thuds, flutters and palpitations
of the heart. Some get used to it,
never feeling a need to mention
it to their doctor.
"They may have had it for
years. They don't want to talk
about it."
Others, understandably, are
extremely disturbed.
"You're fine, and then one day
you developing a skipping. Be-
cause it's the heart, it can
be very alarming," the doctor
Arrhythmias can occur at any
age. Normally, the heart rate
speeds up during physical activ-
ity, stress or excitement, and it
slows down during sleep. During
a 24-hour period, about one-fifth
of healthy adults are likely to ex-
perience frequent or multiple
types of premature beats origi-
nating from the heart's lower
chambers (ventricles).
The prevalence of some ar-
rhythmias tends to increase with
age, even when there is no overt
sign of heart disease. Certain
congenital conditions may make
a person prone to them. Acquired

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