Knowing that you have an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, can help you take steps to reduce the risk of sudden death. But some arrhythmias are very difficult to detect. So at Atlantic Health System, physicians with different subspecialties have teamed up to pin down the risk, through the Comprehensive Inherited Arrhythmia Program at Morristown Medical Center.
“We now know that some arrhythmias are passed down through families,” says Darius Adams, MD, director of the Jacobs Levy Genomic Medicine and Research Program at Atlantic Health System. “So we have gathered a comprehensive team that can put together a range of complex, sometimes subtle information, to evaluate patients’ risks, and to give them options to avoid the dangers of arrhythmia.”
The field of cardiogenetics is fairly new and moving fast, he says. The program, which began just last year, joins physicians with specialized training in electrophysiology (a subspecialty within cardiology that deals with rhythm disorders) and genetics.
“When it comes to genetic causes of arrhythmia, neither of these specialties offers the complete answer concerning a person’s risk for sudden death,” says Michael G. Katz, MD, who specializes in cardiology and electrophysiology at Morristown Medical Center. “But combined, we have the answer. We are leveraging our knowledge so we can identify at-risk patients and prevent life-threatening events.”
A Thorough Examination
Part of the evaluation also includes genetic counseling, to give patients clear-cut guidance about what they can do to minimize their risk. For some patients, treatment might involve medicines. For others, it might require a defibrillator to detect and treat dangerous rhythms. “Knowledge of inherited conditions can be critical to relatives, as well,” Dr. Adams says. “So we reach out to family members who would otherwise not be aware they have any risk.”
Patients often come to the program through a referral from their general cardiologist, but people can self-refer as well.