Over the years, Anna Terc, 38, had numerous tests performed on her heart: EKGs, Holter monitor testing, stress tests and echocardiograms. Her heart seemed to be healthy, yet she experienced extremely rapid heartbeats, also known as palpitations, that left her fatigued and feeling like there was a clash between her heart and the rest of her body.

Anna had a rare arrhythmia that occurs in only about .05% of the population.

What Is Arrhythmia?

An arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat or abnormal heart rhythm. Arrhythmias happen when a group of cells in the heart’s electrical system sends faulty signals to the heart muscle. Symptoms can include palpitations, dizziness, chest pain, sweating, fainting and shortness of breath.

Recurring Heart Palpitations Cause Racing Heartbeat

She had felt the palpitations on and off since childhood, but a prolonged episode in 2013 accompanied by fainting, prompted Anna to seek emergency care.

“I was diagnosed with POTS, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome,” she said. “I felt this was something so unique that not a lot of people knew how to look for it.”

It would take time for Anna’s body to recover from the recurring palpitations. Worry about stimulating them kept her from strenuous activities. The turning point came in August 2022.

“I woke up in the middle of the night and my heart was beating very fast,” she said. “I asked my husband, Jed, to check it, and he said he couldn’t feel my pulse. I finally promised I would go to the doctor.”

Before Anna could make an appointment, her heart was off to the races again, this time in the middle of the workday.

“I was looking at the heartbeat readings on my watch — 150, 160, 170 — and thought, ‘Maybe I need to go to the emergency department now,’” she said. “Jed insisted I go right away.”

Electrical Impulse Test Helps Zero in on Diagnosis

When she arrived at the Emergency Department (ED) at Froedtert Hospital, part of the Froedtert & MCW health network, her resting heart rate was 204 beats per minute.

Her tachycardia did not respond to several rounds of IV medication. Even cardioversion, a burst of electricity to jolt the heart back into rhythm, failed to slow Anna’s heart. Her team recommended an electrophysiology study and ablation.

Anna was admitted to the hospital and scheduled for the next available ablation. The next day she awoke to a heart back in normal rhythm, so the procedure was postponed to September.

Her cardiology team determined Anna’s heart had extra conducting tissue most people don’t have. Normally, electrical impulses go through the atrial-ventricular node to make the heart’s chambers beat in sequence. Anna had tissue that conducted backward, between the ventricle and atrium, a condition called orthodromic atrioventricular reentrant tachycardia. And, she had two accessory pathways, which is extremely rare.

An electrophysiologist ablated the accessory pathways with radiofrequency energy, essentially microwave heat, to destroy dime-sized areas of tissue.

Six weeks later, Anna’s watch alerted her that her heart was beating at an elevated heart rate, and she was back at the ED.

“The team was transparent in saying that they treat 95% of these successfully, so I knew there was a chance it could return,” Anna said. “My doctor was in the building that day. He sat with me in the ED and worked through the options and medications. He got me to a place where I could go home that night.”

In late November, Anna had another ablation because she had a separate rhythm issue that was not apparent at the first ablation. It only showed itself after the accessory pathways were gone, so the final ablation was for focal atrial tachycardia, a more common arrhythmia. Her doctors told her that set of circumstances was highly unusual.

Highly Specialized Electrophysiology Care Team

Anna is grateful her husband insisted she go to the ED — and thankful her care team didn’t miss a beat.

“A lot of problem solving took place,” she said. “Part of what makes this health network so unique is that its doctors are highly specialized. This team of electrophysiologists gets the really rare cases, and I am grateful to say one of them was my doctor.”

With her heart and body now in sync, Anna said she’s sleeping better and feeling a difference in her overall health. She’s even taken up pickleball and plays in a community league.

“I really enjoy my newfound energy,” she said.

The Froedtert & MCW health network offers the full spectrum of state-of-the-art diagnostic tests for irregular heart rhythms. Call 414-777-7700 for an appointment or visit froedtert.com/arrhythmia.

This article appeared in the January 2024 issue of Froedtert Today. 

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