New Research of Heart Rhythm Disorders Seeks to Slow the Prevalence of this Growing Disease


The growing prevalence of heart rhythm disorders in the United States is a significant health problem — including atrial fibrillation, [HRS FACT SHEET] which affects more than three million Americans. It’s the most common sustained heart rhythm disorder in the nation, and increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, both of which are leading causes of death here and throughout the world.

In our clinic alone — the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City — we’ve seen our outpatient clinic volumes rise by five percent each year since 2013. Abnormal heart rhythms can be a serious issue, which many experts from around the world are working to address.

The term "arrhythmia" refers to any change from the normal sequence of electrical impulses. The electrical impulses may happen too fast, too slowly, or erratically – causing the heart to beat too fast, too slowly, or erratically. When the heart doesn't beat properly, it can't pump blood effectively.

When this happens, the lungs, kidneys, and brain and many other organs may not work properly and may over time become damaged. At times organ damage can become a life-threatening situation. In addition, abnormal rhythms from the lower heart chambers, such as ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation, a condition in which the lower heart chambers only quiver and do not effectively pump blood, can result in cardiac arrest and sudden death.

In order for the field of medicine to advance, caregivers and patients need to stop accepting the status quo. Questions should be asked and research executed in order to identify best practices in both the prevention and treatment of heart rhythm disorders.

This May, more than 12,000 physicians, researchers, and caregivers from 90 different countries will meet in Chicago for Heart Rhythm 2017, the Heart Rhythm Society’s 38th annual Scientific Sessions, to discuss the latest science, cutting-edge technologies, and best evidence-based practices that improve the prevention and treatment of heart rhythm disorders.

The Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute’s team of heart rhythm experts are presenting or involved in 16 different research studies that will be shared during the four-day conference. This includes several homegrown studies, in addition collaborative studies with organizations like UCLA, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, University of Kansas and University of Colorado, and the Texas Heart Institute.

Some of the research topics we’re presenting at the conference include:

  • How to minimize the risk of dementia in patients with atrial fibrillation
  • Ways to improve risk stratification of patients with stroke, bleeding, or dementia
  • The use of aspirin in reducing the risk of stroke and bleeding in low-risk atrial fibrillation patients
  • The creation of large animal models of atrial fibrillation that will help us better understand the disease and improve treatment options.
  • Circulating microRNAs that are promising biomarkers that can be collected from routine blood draws that help predict people at risk of atrial fibrillation incidence, severity, and response to therapies
  • Cost effectiveness studies of catheter ablation for atrial fibrillation compared to medical therapies and between different stroke prevention strategies.
  • How to select and treat people with severe heart disease and ventricular tachycardia that present with implantable cardioverter-defibrillator shocks

In addition to presenting new research from our organization, I’m particularly looking forward to a presentation of a promising new medication that can be delivered through a nasal spray and can rapidly stop certain abnormal rapid heart rhythms, and new research on the long-term durability of subcutaneous ICDs and implantable leadless pacemakers.

We’re in a unique time of growth when it comes to heart rhythm research. New technologies allow us to not only look at things we weren’t previously able to explore, but to collaborate in ways we never thought possible. There’s strength in numbers, so the opportunities our organization has had to collaborate with other organizations allow us to present new research that can change the way we look at preventing and treating this disease.