Heart Foundation-funded research aims to better treat life-threatening arrhythmias

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New research funded by the Heart Foundation aims to boost surgery success rates for life-threatening heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias), leading to fewer Australians needing defibrillators installed in their chests.

Arrhythmias are a life-threatening condition where the heart beats slowly or rapidly.

The causes are varied and procedures (known as ‘catheter ablation’) are not always successful when scarring is too deep to be reached and treated.

A new study being led by Heart Foundation funded researcher Dr Pierre Qian (University of Sydney) is aiming to change that.

A number of arrhythmias commonly occur due to scar tissue formed after a heart attack, which have abnormal properties that can lead to recurring arrhythmias.

Depending on the type of arrhythmia, medications may not always be the most suitable treatment, with many patients at high risk receiving an implanted cardiac defibrillator (ICD) which shocks their heart back into a normal rhythm, to prevent sudden death. While this saves lives, it commits a growing number of some arrhythmia patients to painful and traumatising defibrillator shocks.”

Dr Pierre Qian, Researcher, University of Sydney

As opposed to treating irregular heartbeats with an ICD (where patients can be shocked over and over again), used in the right people, catheter ablation is a minimally invasive - and hopefully a once off - procedure where heart scar tissue causing arrhythmias are treated with electrical cautery.

“This procedure uses heat from an electric current to destroy abnormal tissue, however many scars are too deep which leads to arrhythmias recurring after the surgery.

"I hope my research will lead to improved techniques and outcomes that cure arrhythmias,” Dr Qian said.

“I was six minutes into my treadmill session when my heart stopped beating.”

South Australian father-of-three Daniel Lowe lives with an ICD.

In June 2016, the avid gym-goer was six minutes into his treadmill session at the gym when he suffered a cardiac arrest.

The then 35-year-old had no history of heart problems, and why he collapsed remains something of a mystery.

There were no red flags at all. Essentially, I just dropped. My heart stopped and I stopped breathing for about 12-and-a-half minutes.”

Daniel Lowve

Fortunately, the well-trained gym staff and some surf lifesavers swung into action, commencing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and using an automated external defibrillator (AED) until paramedics arrived.

“From what I understand, when the paramedics arrived is when I came back, so to speak. I was then off to the hospital for a series of tests.

“I had a stent inserted (after an arterial blockage was discovered) and an ICD to the chest.”

After Daniel’s ICD was implanted, it has shocked his heart once back into a normal rhythm, while he was playing footy.

Thankfully it only gave Daniel “a quick buzz, and wasn’t too extraordinary,” however this isn’t the case for all people who have been fitted with an ICD.

Now 42, Daniel is still a gym junkie – in fact, he manages the very studio in which he had the arrest.

“Heart health doesn’t discriminate. Something like what happened to me can happen to anyone at any time.

“Prevention is better than the alternative; my advice is for everyone eligible to get a Heart Health Check with their GP.”

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