Saline Memorial Hospital (SMH) is nearing completion of a new state of the art, $3.1 million Cardiac Electrophysiology (EP) Lab that will allow patients with heart rhythm problems to receive advanced treatment closer to home. The highly specialized lab will be devoted to performing electrophysiology studies and ablations, as well as implanting devices such as pacemakers, and defibrillators. Dr. Van H. De Bruyn, a Little Rock Electrophysiologist since 1998, has moved his office to Saline Heart Group in Benton and is helping SMH build this exciting new EP program.
When trying to explain what electrophysiology is, Dr. De Bruyn frequently tells patients that “the heart is like your house, it has both plumbing and electricity.” The heart’s electrical system can have “short circuits,” and the resulting arrhythmias can produce a wide variety of symptoms that can seem to make EP very complicated and difficult to understand.
Dr. De Bruyn reassures listeners with a smile and says that “It’s pretty simple, as there are only two types of abnormal heart rhythm problems – too slow and too fast.”
Patients may experience a wide range of symptoms including palpitations, flutter, chest pain or tightness, shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, visual changes, and passing out. Patients are frequently evaluated with ECGs, Holter monitors, event monitors, echocardiograms and stress tests, and referred for sleep studies.
Once an irregular rhythm is identified, treatments can include observation, lifestyle modification, and medication; some patients are then candidates for various EP procedures that would usually be performed in an EP lab with specially trained staff.
The new EP lab will bring new treatment currently not available in Saline County. If the heart beats too slow, implanting a pacemaker may help a patient who may be fatigued or passing out. An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) can prevent sudden death from a life-threatening arrhythmia. Biventricular pacing can help patients with heart failure.
Electrophysiology (EP) studies can be performed to test the heart’s electrical system and look for any short circuits that can cause various arrhythmias. If a short circuit is found, an ablation can frequently be performed to burn out (or freeze) the abnormality. If successful, patients generally can stop the medications need to control the irregular rhythm.
Depending on the type of arrhythmia, the success rate for some arrhythmias can be over 98% with a low rate of complication. Other arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation, have a somewhat lower 60-70% cure rate due to the more complex nature of the short circuit. The procedure is generally elective and considered in many situations to be as safe as medications, and the decision to perform the procedure is frequently based on patient preference.
EP allows doctors the chance to protect patients who are at increased risk of sudden death from a dangerous heart rhythm. It also allows doctors the chance to cure patients who have a less serious arrhythmia using ablation; the ability to cure patients of their problem is rare in medicine.
The specialty of electrophysiology has undergone an amazing transformation in the last 20 or 25 years. Some call this the “Golden Age” for EP due to all the amazing advances aimed at improving the quality of life and safety of patients. “I don’t think any other area of medicine has seen anything like it,” says Dr. De Bruyn.
The new Saline Memorial Hospital EP lab will be comprehensive and bring a high level of care to Saline County. This new Electrophysiology lab will allow patients to receive state of the art heart rhythm services closer to home.