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Irregular Heart Rhythms Not Uncommon

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Bud Gillett
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - The collapse of Dallas Stars Hockey player Richard Peverley from an apparent irregular heartbeat issue has brought a surprising statistic to light: that one in four older Americans will likely develop atrial fibrillation, or A-fib.

“Kind of ‘Chuh!’ Like a hard throb,” says heart patient Hettie Smith. She developed it after two open-heart surgeries. She can sense A-fib kicking in. “Most times I can tell by feeling, because I’m fatigued. I kind of get out of breath.” She adds, “When that kicks in, that’s bad. It hurts me.”

Smith is a patient at Baylor’s Jack and Jane Hamilton Heart and Vascular Hospital in Dallas. Her husband is a patient at the Baylor Saltero Cardiovascular Research Center there.

The Afib happens because the heart’s electrical wiring gets crossed up and doesn’t pump the right amount of blood from the upper chambers to the lower ones. There can be too much blood, or too little…or the upper chambers can quiver, according to research center director Dr. Cara East.

“When they develop A-fibrillation they begin to quiver and and they quiver quite fast and they can’t get electricity down here and it becomes quite irregular. And if it’s fast and irregular, sometimes you don’t get enough blood to your brain.” She adds, “We can have skip beats, we can have sustained abnormal rhythms where the heart goes into an abnormal rhythm and stays in it, we can have fast ones, and we can have slow ones…Sometimes, if it’s very fast, they won’t get quite enough blood to their brain and they’ll feel light-headed, dizzy.”

In rare cases it can create a blood clot and trigger a stroke. Mostly, though, it’s not life-threatening. “It doesn’t bother me,” says Smith. “I just go from day-to-day and do what I can. It doesn’t stop me from doing anything.”

Nor did it stop Richard Peverley, who knew he had irregular heartbeat issues; they kept him out of training camp and out of an away game last week.

But he was all business Monday night, banging on opponents in the first period, until he collapsed on the bench.

Dr. East is not on Peverley’s medical team but says it’s a concern it happened to someone so young as it might indicate a congenital defect. Still, she’s not surprised that when he recovered consciousness he was more concerned with how much time there was in the game than with himself. “When you get them back quickly, it’s as if they just went to sleep and woke right back up.”

Dr. East says it’s fortunate there was a defibrillator handy to reset Peverley’s heart… and a wake-up call for the rest of us to learn how to use them.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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