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The Doctors: Irregular heartbeats
The Doctors: Irregular heartbeats: Some heart rhythm problems can cause fainting, shortness of breath and chest pain, or put you at risk for heart failure and stroke.
Heart rhythm problems can be serious. / Giuseppe Graziano/Getty Images

An occasional skipped beat or racing heart is often harmless and passes quickly. But some heart rhythm problems can cause fainting, shortness of breath and chest pain, or put you at risk for heart failure and stroke. Here are common therapies, plus recent updates from the lab.

Treatment: Medication. Many types of too-fast heartbeats respond well to drugs designed to restore normal rhythms. In patients with atrial fibrillation (the most common type of arrhythmia), doctors may prescribe beta blockers and calcium channel blockers to help control an irregular rate, as well as blood thinners in some cases to help reduce the risk of blood clots and stroke.

Research update: Donít mix vitamins with certain meds. Heart patients on the blood thinner Warfarin often take it with dietary supplements, causing potentially harmful consequences, according to a study presented at the American Heart Associationís annual meeting. Out of 100 people surveyed, researchers found that 62% of patients took the drug with vitamins, which could reduce its effectiveness. Be sure to discuss your supplement regimen with your doctor before starting any medications.

Treatment: Ablation therapy. This procedure involves threading one or more catheters through the blood vessels to your heart and using the tip to destroy a small spot of heart tissue that may be causing the abnormally fast heart rhythm.

Research update: People who are overweight may benefit most. According to study results published in the journal Heart-Rhythm, ablation procedures were as successful at controlling atrial fibrillation in both thin and heavy people, but those who were obese and overweight showed increased vitality and less anxiety after the procedure.

Treatment: Implantable defibrillator If youíre at high risk of developing a dangerously fast or quivering heartbeat in the lower half of your heart, your doctor may recommend an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), a small device thatís placed under the skin in the chest. If it detects a dangerous arrhythmia, it sends an electric shock to the heart to restore normal rhythm.

Research update: Ask about wearable versions. Same as itsí implantable relative, this defibrillator can monitor and shock the heart if needed; but unlike the ICD, you can wear it in a vest-like strap and it alerts bystanders to help if the heartís electrical activity stops. The wearable defibrillator was designed specifically for people at high risk for dangerous heart arrhythmias, but who are not yet eligible for an ICD, and according to a study presented at the AHA scientific sessions and funded by the company that made the device, it successfully converted potentially fatal heart rhythms more than 90% of the time.

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The Doctors

The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork and plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon. Check www.thedoctorstv.com for local listings.