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Many people at risk are unaware of their risk of irregular heartbeat
Young people can also develop life-threatening heart problems. "Again and again, young, apparently healthy people suddenly experience severe cardiac arrhythmias - often with a fatal outcome," the Freiburg University Clinic warned. Many people at risk are not aware of the risk.
An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people in Germany carry the risk of inherited cardiac arrhythmias, but many are unaware of the danger, the experts at the Freiburg University Clinic report. "Those affected often only learn of their risk if they themselves or a parent survive a severe cardiac arrhythmia," explains cardiologist Prof. Dr. Katja Odening from the Clinic for Cardiology and Angiology I of the University Heart Center Freiburg Bad Krozingen. With early intervention, however, the risk could be significantly reduced.
Stress, exercise and the alarm clock can trigger cardiac arrhythmias
According to Prof. Odening, different factors can trigger the cardiac arrhythmia in those at risk. "Work stress, competitive sports and even alarm alarm can lead to a life-threatening situation," explains the head of the "Special Outpatient Clinic for Congenital Arrhythmogenic Diseases" in Freiburg. In addition, the hormonal status can play a role in certain diseases. For example, boys with so-called Long QT syndrome before puberty have a particularly high risk of potentially fatal arrhythmias, while girls only develop this during or after puberty. This is due to the fact that the female hormone estrogen promotes rhythm disturbances, while testosterone is more of an inhibitor, reports the Freiburg University Hospital of the results of the research team led by Professor Odening. In some cases, taking antibiotics and other medications can increase the risk of irregular heartbeat.
ECG most important diagnostic tool
If survivors suffer from severe cardiac arrhythmias - also known as ventricular fibrillation - follow detailed examinations in the Freiburg special clinic for hereditary causes of the rhythm disorder. "The most important tool for this is the electrocardiogram (EKG), which records heart activity," reports the university hospital. The heart function is determined by measurements at rest, under stress while cycling and over a period of 24 hours. Extensive genetic analyzes have also been part of the standard diagnostics at the University Heart Center Freiburg Bad Krozingen for some time.
Avoid potential triggers
"In addition, we are currently researching whether changes in the electrical or mechanical properties of the heart provide further information on the risk of rhythm disorders in these congenital diseases," reports cardiologist Prof. Odening. In the treatment, an individual orientation according to the respective disease is provided. An essential part of the treatment is that those affected avoid specific triggers such as competitive sports, physical stress, fever or excessive alcohol for their illness. In certain cases, drugs such as certain antibiotics are also taboo. Regular cardiological checks should indicate an early deterioration in the situation.
Further treatment options
If the precautionary measures are not sufficient, the implantation of a so-called defibrillator may be necessary, which ends the ventricular fibrillation with a brief electrical shock, according to the Freiburg University Hospital. Until recently, beta-blockers were also used as medication for rhythm disorders in some of the congenital rhythm disorders. "However, as the latest research results show, only some of those affected have sufficient effects, depending on their genetic profile," reports the Freiburg University Clinic.
Individually adapted therapy plans
In view of the limited drug treatment options, the team led by Prof. Odening is also looking for alternatives, such as in the gender-specific therapy of hormone-controlled cardiac arrhythmias. "We check individually for each patient which diagnostics could be valuable and coordinate the therapy plan accordingly," emphasizes the cardiologist. If a congenital cardiac arrhythmia is suspected, those affected can introduce themselves in the “Outpatient Clinic for Congenital Arrhythmogenic Diseases” at the UHZ. (fp)