Heart Rhythm and Arrythmias

Heart arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, occur when the heart’s electrical system is out of synch and disorganized. Like a novice drummer, with arrhythmias your heart can beat too fast, too slow or irregularly. Arrhythmias are important because they can cause sudden cardiac death, strokes and their aftereffects.

The Johns Hopkins Arrhythmia Service is composed of faculty who are working hard to combat cardiac arrhythmias. The arrhythmia team is working on a large portfolio of arrhythmia research projects. They do this through basic research and genetic studies to understand the fundamental causes of arrhythmias. They are also working on new approaches to treat cardiac arrhythmias — with medications, catheter ablation and implantable devices.
One important area of research is on arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC). This inherited disorder is a common cause of sudden cardiac death in young people. Johns Hopkins has the largest team of researchers and collaborators working to combat this disease. The ARVD Precision Center of Excellence conducts research that involves studies in mouse models of the disease and clinical trials using a large national registry of patients with this condition, as well as genetic testing and analysis.

Another area of research focus is on atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is the most common arrhythmia in the world and is a contributing cause of strokes. Researchers are focused on ways to improve care for patients with atrial fibrillation. They established a registry of patients who have undergone ablation for atrial fibrillation, and have collected data for over 2000 patients over the last 15 years. Johns Hopkins researchers are also working to develop new techniques for treatment including catheter ablation. Catheter ablation involves passing a small wire from the leg into the heart and cauterizing or freezing the areas that cause atrial fibrillation. In addition to this, the Johns Hopkins team is developing methods to lower stroke risk without use of anti-blood clotting medications.

Johns Hopkins arrhythmia experts are also working on ventricular arrhythmias. These arrhythmias arise in the lower chamber of the heart and are a common cause of sudden cardiac death. The researchers are working on new approaches to use catheter ablation to control these arrhythmias. They also have large research efforts focused on identifying which patients are most susceptible to a cardiac arrest. This is important as these patients may benefit from placement of an implantable defibrillator.

Connecting Heart Failure and Arrhythmias

Heart failure means that the heart is unable to pump enough blood, while heart arrhythmias occur when the heart’s electrical system is disorganized. Dr. Anderson and his team want to understand why heart failure and heart arrhythmias often happen together—and how both can be better prevented.