Your heart is constantly pumping. It has its own speed and pattern, known as the heart's rhythm. A serious heart rhythm problem can stop the heart from pumping blood, this condition is known as cardiac arrest.

Electrophysiology studies (EPS) examine the heart's rhythm so that doctor's can tell exactly what the problem is and help determine what can be done to control it. If you have a problem with your heart's rhythm, such as it beating too slow, too quick, or just irregularly then this condition is called an arrhythmia. Symptoms of a heart rhythm problem include:

  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Fainting spells
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations (a fluttering, strong, or fast heartbeat)
  • Chest pain or discomfort

Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood through the body. It contains four chambers. The two upper chambers (atria) receive blood from the lungs and body. The atria then contract to move the blood through the valves into the two lower chambers known as the ventricles. The ventricles contract to force the blood back out into your lungs and body. Your heart's electrical system creates the signals needed to tell the chambers when to contract.

Sometimes the heart's electrical signals are not sent, are blocked, or take a detour. This leads to a slow heart rhythm, known as bradycardia. When the heart rhythm is slow, your heart does not beat fast enough, causing the blood not to move the way it should. Sometimes problems with the heart's electrical signals can lead to the heart beating too fast, otherwise known as tachycardia. The signals can also be sent so rapidly and irregularly that the heart muscle quivers and does not beat at all. This condition is called fibrillation.

How it Works

An electrophysiology study normally involves inserting an electrode catheter to record the electrical activity inside the heart. These catheters can find where and when the signals begin and how often they are sent.

There are different types of procedures that can be done during this study. The doctor might send electrical signals through the catheters to stimulate the heart. If these signals induce an arrhythmia, or a rhythm problem, then medication may be given to the patient to see how it affects the rhythm and to see if it can stop the arrhythmia completely. Using electric shock or electrode catheters to regulate the heartbeat may also help to stop arrhythmias.

There are risks such as bleeding, blood clots, and perforation of the heart muscle or a blood vessel associated with electrophysiology studies, but the benefits of learning more about your arrhythmia outnumber these low risks.