What is an electrophysiologist?

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September is Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month and we’re sharing a related story each week throughout the month.  Last week, we explained what Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) is. This week we share what an electrophysiologist does.

Building 3D images.

Guiding catheters with GPS.

Mapping the heart’s electrical connections.

For electrophysiologist Dr. J. Christian Hays, 21st-century technology provides the tools that allow him to repair the magnificent muscle from the inside.

“I get excited about being able to fix it,” said Hays. “We don’t have to treat everything with medicine. We can cure with a procedure.”

Electro-what?

Electrophysiologists are specialists focused on the heart’s electrical system, which controls the heart’s rhythm and performance.

If the electrical system doesn’t work, the heart doesn’t work.

“Obviously, we have to have good vessels, good plumbing. If you have blockage that presents other issues,” said Hays.

Doctors now work with three-dimensional images of the heart, guide catheters with GPS, and map the heart from the inside before they do surgery.

Every heart is unique and so every map of the electrical connections is unique. “We have very intricate mapping systems available to us,” he added.

The basic EKG still provides a ton of information but an electrophysiology study allows doctors to place diagnostic catheters in the vein, go inside the heart and focus on specific spots in the heart. “We can pace the heart and see how the heart responds to the pacing. Based on the findings, we can diagnose,” he said. Electrophysiology not only deals with the connections but how they work to produce a normal rhythm as well as extraneous or skipped beats.

“There are multiple reasons for the connections or pathways to break down,” said Hays. Sometimes patients are born with issues and sometimes it happens over time. Strains and stresses on the heart from scars, hypertension, stress, obesity or sleep apnea can contribute to problems.

“We used to spend a lot of time talking about things we could figure out. But we didn’t have the technology. Now technology has caught up. We can deliver and improve people’s lives.”