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Articles / 2008

Expert panel to give heart-smart advice in Camarillo
Heart disease symposium at Spanish Hills is sold out

By Daniel Wolowicz
Camarillo Acorn
February 8, 2008

Ishu Rao knows what makes people tick. Literally.

The 37-year-old cardiologist specializes in electrophysiology- the study of the heart's complex electrical circuitry, the system that emits small electrical pulses to control the rhythm of the heartbeat.

A healthy rhythm means a healthy heart. Either too fast or too slow, an irregular heartbeat- also known as an arrhythmia- can be deadly.

If the heart beats too slowly, the blood is not circulated fast enough and the person can become dizzy or black out due to a lack of blood to the brain. If the heart beats too quickly, the body works inefficiently and the person feels out of breath and very tired.

A presentation by Rao on the intricacies of the heart's electrical system and the newest advances in the treatments of irregular heartbeats will be one of eight topics covered during Community Memorial Health System's Heart Symposium at Spanish Hills Country Club tomorrow.

The fivehour conference cohosted by Community Memorial and the Ventura Heart Institute will cover a range of topics related to heart disease, including diagnosis and treatment options, the importance of a heart-smart diet and how best to identify and prevent the deadly disease. Two question-and-answer sessions will give those attending a chance to seek advice from a panel of medical experts.

According to a report released last year by the American Heart Association, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States. The disease contributes to more than 37 percent of the deaths in America and is estimated, along with strokes, to cost more than $403 billion a year in medical expenses, the report said.

Rao, a Pennsylvania native, spent the last few years at a private practice in Texas, where he was recruited by the Ventura-based hospital less than a year ago to oversee their new $500,000 electrophysiology lab.

Using the state-of-the-art equipment, Rao treats patients- from teens to those in their 80s- with rapid heart rates.

Although not typically a fatal condition, a rapid heart rate often makes the person feel lightheaded, weak and out of breath. It can make even the lightest of physical activity exhausting.

Rao said doctors have treated those suffering from rapid heart rates with medication for the past 20 years, but the new wave of threedimensional imaging technology and medical breakthroughs in understanding the heart now give doctors the opportunity to actually cure patients of their symptoms.

"Prior to this there was no really good way of treating these arrhythmias with any procedures," Rao said. "We would treat them with medication."

Rao said the twohour procedure doesn't usually require the use of general anesthesia. It begins with a small incision near the groin area into which catheters are inserted and then guided through a major vein to inside the heart, where they are carefully positioned to map the heart's electrical activity.

In effect, the catheters' sensors act as a highly tuned electrocardiogram, most commonly known as an EKG. The electrodes map the pathway of electrical impulses across the heart.

"What we are working with is a very, very detailed version of an EKG," Rao said. "While an EKG is the 30,000-foot view of your house, the catheters that we put in allow us to stand in your living room and look around."

The catheters are used to stimulate the heart in order to show doctors which part of the heart's electrical circuitry is causing the rapid heart rate. Once the location of the electrical abnormality is located- about the size of a pin head- doctors use thermal heat to remove the patch of irregular cells.

Those who have the procedure must stay one night in the hospital, Rao said, but most patients are typically discharged the next day and require little recovery time.

He said his patients usually report a much higher quality of life following the procedure and are able to exercise and be far more active than they were before the treatment.

Rao said a rapid heart rate, especially in patients who've suffered a heart attack, is a cause for concern and could lead to sudden cardiac arrest- when the heart stops working.

Treatment for a cardiac arrest is often seen in television shows and movies when doctors use defibrillators- two large paddles- to shock a heart back into the proper rhythm.

As part of his discussion tomorrow, Rao said he will also talk about his work implanting small defibrillator devices, about the size of a deck of cards, into high-risk patients to shock their hearts back into rhythm in case of cardiac arrest.

It's another new technology, he said, that has given cardiologists a whole new way to treat and diagnose heart problems.

"In this day and age, we can take complex problems, analyze them quickly with the aid of technology and then deliver a therapy that is very specialized and very unique... so the patients get cured and treated and back to their lives as quickly as possible with as little disruption as possible," Rao said.

Tomorrow's symposium is sold out, but those interested in finding out when the next conference will take place should call Community Memorial Health Systems at 805/652-5385.

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