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Cheney Treated for Irregular Heartbeat

News Perspective: Vice President Underwent Shock Treatment for Atrial Fibrillation
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 27, 2007 -- Vice President Dick Cheney was treated for an irregular heartbeat. The condition was found after Cheney visited his doctor for a lingering cough from a cold.

"During examination he was incidentally found to have an irregular heartbeat, which on further testing was determined to be atrial fibrillation, an abnormal rhythm involving the upper chambers of the heart," Cheney spokeswoman Megan Mitchell told the Associated Press.

Cheney had a procedure on Monday called electrical cardioversion, which is used to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm. This is a common treatment for atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation, which is more common among people with heart disease, occurs when the upper chambers of the heart beat erratically. Cheney has previously had several heart attacks, quadruple bypass heart surgery, and procedures to clear clogged arteries (angioplasty).

An electrical impulse was used to restore the upper chambers to normal rhythm. The procedure went smoothly and without complication. The vice president returned to work on Tuesday, a Cheney spokesperson told reporters.

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of irregular heartbeat. It is found in about 2.2 million Americans. In people with atrial fibrillation, the electrical impulse that controls the heartbeat does not travel in an orderly fashion through the heart. Instead, many impulses begin simultaneously and spread erratically and irregularly through the heart. The firing of these impulses results in a disorganized heartbeat.

What Are the Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation?

Some people with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms at all. It's unclear if Cheney was having symptoms of his atrial fibrillation. If you have symptoms, they may include:

  • Heart palpitations (a sudden pounding, fluttering, or racing feeling in the chest)
  • Lack of energy; feeling overtired
  • Dizziness (feeling faint or light-headed)
  • Chest discomfort (pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest)
  • Shortness of breath (difficulty breathing during normal activities or even at rest)

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