Everyone’s heart races or feels like it “skips a beat” sometimes. Fortunately, says James Daniels, M.D., what may feel like a cardiac arrhythmia (heart rhythm disorder) may not be. And when it is an arrhythmia, most aren’t dangerous – in the absence of any other heart disease, only a small percentage of arrhythmias are life-threatening.
As a cardiac electrophysiologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dr. Daniels specializes in evaluating and treating arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation, in both adults and adolescents.
He is board certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease, and clinical cardiac electrophysiology (the subspecialty focused on the heart’s electrical system) and leads UT Southwestern’s pacemaker and defibrillator clinic.
Rhythm disorders related to emotional or physical stress, for instance, typically go away on their own once the stressor is eliminated, says Dr. Daniels, as do those caused by stimulants such as caffeine or those found in some over-the-counter decongestants.
People should seek medical attention if – in addition to feeling like their heartbeat is irregular – they also experience symptoms such as chest pain, syncope (fainting), shortness of breath, or feeling faint, he says.
“In the absence of those associated symptoms, people really only need to see a doctor if the feeling of an irregular heart rate occurs frequently enough to be bothersome,” he says. “In most cases, the decision to treat a confirmed arrhythmia – and if so, how – is largely guided by how much a patient is bothered by it.”
Most cardiac arrhythmias can now be successfully treated with medication, or with minimally invasive, catheter-based procedures such as catheter ablation, or with fairly minor surgical procedures, many of which cure certain arrhythmias.
Due to the complex nature of some of the conditions the Heart Rhythm Management team treats, Dr. Daniels and his colleagues work closely with other UT Southwestern medical and surgical clinical teams – including other cardiology subspecialists, cardiac surgeons, and interventional radiologists – to deliver comprehensive care.
“Our collaborative approach to patient management really allows us to take care of the whole person, even with very complicated cases,” he says. “I’m proud that we at UT Southwestern can make a difference in people’s lives and the way they feel.”