Vice-President Dick Cheney went to the hospital this afternoon after his doctors detected an abnormal rhythm to his heartbeat. He was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, meaning that the upper chambers of his heart, the atria, weren’t beating properly, and doctors prepared to give his heart an electric shock to restore its proper rhythm.
Atrial fibrillation isn’t an immediately life-threatening condition, unlike ventricular fibrillation, when the heart’s lower chambers stop beating, blood stops pumping, and the body begins to shut down. Patients with atrial fibrillation may feel palpitations or shortness of breath, but often it causes no symptoms at all. When it happens, blood isn’t pumped completely out of the atria. That increases the likelihood that the blood will form a clot, which can then travel into the brain and cause a stroke. That’s the most important reason for treating the condition [The Wall Street Journal health blog].
Cheney also experienced an abnormal rhythm in the upper chambers of his heart November 26. His normal heart rhythm was restored through a procedure called cardioversion [CNN]. Doctors are expected to perform the same short out-patient procedure this time, in which Cheney will be sedated and an electric shock will be administered to his heart to jump-start his atria and get them beating normally again.
The 67-year-old vice-president has a long history of heart disease. Cheney has had four heart attacks, starting when he was 37 years old, and many related doctor and hospital visits over the years since. He has had quadruple bypass surgery and two artery-clearing angioplasties. In 2001, he had a special pacemaker implanted in his chest. The pacemaker’s battery was replaced last year, and then the entire device was replaced [AP].
Image: White House/David Bohrer