How does an electrophysiological (EP) study assess heart problems?

Cardiac electrophysiology (EP) is the specialty that focuses on the electrical system of the heart. During an EP study, doctors locate short circuits within the heart electrical system such as slow or fast rhythms. Some of them are a danger to people. If a rhythm disorder is detected, doctors have many options to treat it, including implanting a device to help the heart beat properly.

Many rhythms are curable in the EP lab—some procedures have cure rates of up to 97 percent. They are relatively low-risk procedures and typically require an overnight stay in the hospital. People who receive these treatments leave without the heart problem that they've had for years or even decades.

There are several ways in which electrophysiological (EP) studies may be performed to assist in diagnosing electrical conduction system abnormalities of the heart. For example, a dysrhythmia/arrhythmia (an abnormal rhythm) may be stimulated by the electrical signal, in which case medication may be given to treat the dysrhythmia. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of the medication given, another attempt is made to stimulate the dysrhythmia.

Mapping, another type of EP study, may be done to locate the point of origin of a dysrhythmia. If a location is found that is the cause of the dysrhythmia, an ablation (removal of the spot by freezing or radiofrequency) may be done, which should stop the dysrhythmia.

The results of the study may help the physician determine further therapeutic measures, such as inserting a pacemaker or implantable defibrillator, adding or changing medications, performing additional ablation procedures, or providing other treatments.

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