Bernie’s story: Relief from atrial fibrillation symptoms
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat 20 years ago, Bernie Larson feels better today than she has in a long time, thanks to a biventricular pacemaker.
Larson, who lives in Marinette and is in her early 70s, has a condition known as atrial fibrillation.
“Atrial fibrillation is chaotic electrical activity in the heart,” Sheikh says. “With atrial fibrillation, the heart is quivering instead of having a useful function. That can lead to stroke, cardiomyopathy or heart failure.”
In Larson’s case, it led to cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakens the heart muscle.
“Her heart function decreased. That can be blamed for her symptoms, shortness of breath, fatigue, exercising tolerance,” Sheikh says.
Larson knows those symptoms all too well.
“I didn’t have a lot of energy. Steps were mostly the killer. Trying to do a lot of everyday stuff that requires more energy, because when your heart’s beating so fast, it’s kind of like you’re on a treadmill and you can’t stop,” she says.
Over the past 20 years, Larson had several ablation procedures, which try to decrease the burden of atrial fibrillation. However, the benefits often were short-lived. She also took anti-arrhythmic medications to try to control her heart rhythm, but those medications didn’t control her symptoms caused by atrial fibrillation.
This time, though, Larson needed something to treat her weakened heart. That turned out to be the biventricular pacemaker, which is wired to deliver electrical impulses to both the right and left ventricles, or the bottom two chambers, of the heart.
The left ventricular connection is the key.
“The right ventricle pumps to the lungs and the left ventricle pumps to the body. She only had the wire on the right side (with the conventional dual-chamber pacemaker). Her heart was pumping lopsided,” Sheikh says. “The pacemaker controls how the heart pumps. Instead of pumping lopsided, it can pump with more efficiency. It works to improve her condition.”
This new pacemaker allows the right and left sides of the heart to pump in synchrony, resulting in improved heart function and relieving the symptoms of atrial fibrillation.
Larson’s anatomy posed a challenge. In February 2017, Sheikh implanted her third pacemaker but couldn’t reach the back side of her heart to install the left ventricular lead. A month later, Sheikh brought in special equipment and finished the job, upgrading it to a biventricular pacemaker. Typically, pacemakers are installed in one procedure.
“I feel better since I first got it,” Larson says. “I have a lot more energy. I’m not that short of breath, I’m not retaining fluid. I have more energy, period, to do my everyday stuff.
“I golf. We have a cart, but I walk as much as I can in between shots. I ride a bike. I don’t really do a lot of exercising because I don’t really have the best joints, but I do what I can. I can do it a lot easier now.”
Dr. Imran Sheikh sees patients in Green Bay and Marinette. He is board certified in clinical cardiac electrophysiology and cardiovascular disease by the American Board of Internal Medicine. To request an appointment, call 800-236-6309 in Green Bay or 715-735-4200 in Marinette, or do so online.