There are many opportunities for employment in the general field of healthcare. There’s a particular need for professionals with the skills needed for caring for patients with heart rhythm disorders or heart disease. Healthcare workers can advance their skills through certificate programs, and doing so can help you advance your career.
Medical professionals predict that more than 12 million Americans will suffer from atrial fibrillation by 2030. This is the most common disorder of cardiac rhythm, but there are a variety of heart rhythm disorders like arrhythmia, bradycardia, and tachycardia that affect millions of people.
The pervasiveness of these disorders makes it essential for hospitals and clinics to have enough skilled healthcare providers to care for patients experiencing dysrhythmia. Let’s examine this field of practice and the various skills, certifications, and credentials you can obtain to specialize in this field of medicine.
Types of Heart Rhythm Disorders
Healthcare professionals caring for patients with rhythm disorders need to be familiar with many heart arrhythmias. Here are a few of the most common.
The heart’s rhythm becomes irregular and often rapid during atrial fibrillation (commonly referred to as A-fib). The atria, or the heart’s upper chambers, will beat out of sync with the heart’s ventricles (the lower chambers of the heart).
Blood flow through the heart becomes poor, potentially leading to clotting and an increased risk of stroke. If left unchecked, arrhythmia itself can be quite dangerous.
An arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat. This sort of problem occurs when the electrical impulses that control the beating of the heart become faulty. The result can be:
- A sensation of a racing heartbeat
- A fluttering feeling in the chest
- Shortness of breath
Tachycardia is a term describing a condition where a person has a resting heartbeat that exceeds 100 beats per minute. It can be brought on by certain rhythm disorders, such as A-fib.
Bradycardia is the opposite of tachycardia. It means that a person’s resting heart rate is less than 60 beats a minute. While it’s not always problematic, there may be an underlying condition causing the slow beating of the heart when the rate results in inadequate blood flow.
Sometimes, the beating of the heart becomes erratic rather than too fast or slow. This irregular beating is often the result of underlying conditions that affect the electrical impulses regulating the heart’s rhythm.
Basics of Testing and Treating Patients With Heart Disease
Doctors use a variety of techniques to treat heart rhythm disorders. The most common include:
- EKG monitoring
- Blood screening
- Prescription drugs
- Diet and behavior modification
EKG monitoring and blood screening tests analyze patterns and capture data that could indicate a heart attack or heart disease. Doctors can use medicine to fight arrhythmias, and surgical intervention is often used as a last resort. Teaching people how to eat right and take care of themselves is also essential for preventing heart disease from developing in the first place.
Getting Certified to Treat Patients with Arrhythmia
A cardiologist is a doctor who treats patients with heart disease and other cardiac conditions. But you don’t need an advanced degree to care for patients with conditions like cardiac arrhythmia or heart disease. There is a huge curriculum available to study as part of acquiring relevant certificates for this care.
Here are some of the most effective ways to earn skills and credentials to help patients with heart rhythm disorders:
An Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) has the training to respond to various life-threatening conditions, including disorders of the heart.
There are two main categories of relevant EMT training:
- Basic Life Support (BLS)
- Advanced Life Support (ALS)
Though many EMTs work in a prehospital setting, there are quite a few jobs within hospitals and other healthcare facilities that require an EMT certification. The exact breakdown of training and scope of practice varies by state.
An EMT will have the skills to respond to cardiac emergencies by performing Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) in concert with the application of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). In some jurisdictions, a basic EMT can also perform EKG screening.
Paramedic is the highest certification level for EMTs, and they have skills that include reading EKGs, administering drugs via an IV, and performing advanced interventions in the field.
An EKG, sometimes called an electrocardiogram or ECG, is a non-invasive procedure that helps chart the electrical impulses in a patient’s heart. By placing leads on a person’s chest, the EKG technician assists doctors in screening for abnormal rhythms.
EKG imaging is a technical skill, and earning a certificate that enables you to perform these procedures can help you broaden your skills as a healthcare provider.
Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support takes the cardiac training of an EMT to the next level.
Instead of stopping at using an AED to try and restore the heart’s rhythm, a provider with ACLS certification has more life-saving options in their toolbox. For instance, you’ll learn how to apply the EKG’s electrodes and look for signs of heart rhythm disorders and/or heart attack.
Certification as an ACLS provider will also teach you how to administer medication through intravenous and intraosseous interventions, as well as how to perform intubation to open a patient’s airway who is unable to do so themself.
Neonatal Resuscitation Certification
Neonates are the smallest and often most vulnerable patients. When a newborn infant goes into cardiac or respiratory arrest, you need specific skills in order to provide them with life-saving care.
A quality neonatal resuscitation program will teach you how to adapt basic adult-level resuscitation techniques to fragile newborn bodies. The method of performing chest compressions on a neonate is significantly different from that used on an adult. Learning techniques within a program will give you the techniques to perform this procedure with confidence.
Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) is one of the most advanced prehospital certifications you can achieve. Earning this certificate is usually one part of a paramedic training program. This certification will give you the tools you need to intervene when a child experiences a severe medical emergency.
Nursing Assistant Certification
Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) are part of the backbone of hospital staffing. They have many skills related to caring for patients with heart rhythm disorders. In many states, you must become an EMT before you can work as a CNA.
This certificate can also help you become more prepared overall to handle emergencies (including those related to cardiac disorders). The skills you learn as a CNA trainee dovetail with many of the other certificate programs, so you will learn about EKG administration, the basics of nursing, and more.
Advanced Techniques for Treating Patients with Heart Rhythm Disorders
Doctors treating heart rhythm disorders will use an escalating line of attack to treat patients experiencing arrhythmia. The underlying condition will play a large part in determining the best course of treatment for each patient.
Frequently, medications are the first line of defense against dysrhythmia. A doctor can prescribe drugs that limit certain electric impulses, blocking or limiting those signals. They aim to isolate the particular impulse disrupting an otherwise normal sinus rhythm.
In some cases, medications alone can restore normal function. Sometimes, medications called blood thinners are used to treat patients at risk for A-fib due to their increased risk of developing clots that may cause strokes.
Restoring Proper Rhythm With a Defibrillator
In some situations where a patient has an irregular, rapid, or slow heart rate, the doctor will use a defibrillator to try and restore the normal rhythm. This procedure is called cardioversion.
In this procedure, the medical team will sedate the patient and use medications to slow or stop their heart. They will then use the defibrillator to ‘shock’ the heart back into rhythm, hopefully restoring its normal cadence.
Typically, the patient will continue to take medications to try and ward off the potential return of an arrhythmia. If this procedure doesn’t work, a doctor may recommend more aggressive measures.
An ablation is a procedure that involves threading a catheter through blood vessels to the heart. The first step to this procedure is understanding the precise part of the heart causing the abnormal electrical impulses that are creating the arrhythmia. This knowledge is necessary to properly conduct the procedure.
Typically, an incision is made in the groin or wrist, and a physician will guide the catheter tubes to the specific location within the heart. The tips of the catheter will have either heat- or cold-inducing probes that scar the heart tissue, limiting the conduction of faulty electrical signals and hopefully eliminating the arrhythmia.
If all else fails, or if a patient has a particular type of arrhythmia that can’t be treated by all other interventions, your doctor may recommend the use of a pacemaker. A pacemaker may be wearable or implantable, depending on the patient’s condition.
At its most basic design, a pacemaker is a medical device that uses electricity to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm. The device detects an abnormal heart rate and intercedes automatically. Sometimes, the patient won’t even know the device has delivered a shock. Other times, they may actually feel the jolt.
Caring for Patients With Heart Rhythm Disorders: Bottom Line
As you can see, caring for a patient with a heart rhythm issue requires a lot of medical know-how.
Often, the first step to being a reliable part of a team that helps patients with heart disease is to achieve certification in a specific area of practice. It provides proof to your team (and your supervisor) that you have the skills necessary to rise to the challenge. AMRI is a trusted and reliable resource for students and laypersons interested in this and related subject matter.
Check out their array of certification courses whether you’re looking for your first time or if you need a renewal for your continuing education.