By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Vice President Cheney, who has a long history of serious cardiovascular problems, was successfully treated with an electric shock yesterday after developing an abnormal rhythm in the upper chambers of his heart, according to the White House.
Cheney, 67, underwent the treatment at George Washington University Hospital after White House doctors discovered the rapid heartbeat, which is known as atrial fibrillation, officials said.
"An electrical impulse was delivered to restore the heart to normal rhythm," Cheney spokeswoman Megan Mitchell said yesterday afternoon after the vice president's treatment. "The procedure went smoothly and without complication."
Mitchell said Cheney returned home after the hospital visit and "resumed his normal schedule."
Cheney was previously treated with an electric shock for atrial fibrillation last November. Cheney has also suffered four heart attacks since age 37 and has undergone quadruple bypass surgery, two angioplasties, and an operation to implant a defibrillator device to monitor and regulate his heartbeat.
The health problems prompted Cheney to cancel plans yesterday to host a $500-a-plate luncheon in Illinois for GOP candidate Marty Ozinga, who is vying against Democrat Debbie Halvorsen for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.). Cheney called in to the gathering to express his support, Mitchell said.
President Bush, speaking to reporters while traveling in Ada, Mich., said Cheney told him about his latest heart problem during their regular morning briefing.
"The vice president is doing fine," Bush said before Cheney visited the hospital. ". . . He said this is the exact same procedure he had a while ago. And he was confident, his doctors are confident, and therefore I'm confident."
Cheney had a defibrillator implanted in 2001 to regulate the lower chamber of his heart, and doctors replaced the device last year. Cheney also had surgery in 2005 to treat aneurysms behind his knees; was treated in 2006 after he felt short of breath; and developed a blood clot in his leg after a trip to Asia in early 2007.
Atrial fibrillation causes the heart's upper chambers to beat too quickly, creating the risk of a clot that could eventually become lodged in the brain and cause a stroke. People with the condition can experience dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath and fainting.
Sean C. Beinart, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville who was not involved in Cheney's case, said atrial fibrillation is not a life-threatening condition if caught early and without complications. After electric shock is administered, patients are often treated with blood thinners or with anti-arrhythmic medications, Beinart said.
The fact that Cheney was treated with electric impulse suggests that no clots had formed in the heart. Restoring a normal heart rhythm in such cases is risky because a clot can be forced out of the heart and into the brain, increasing the chance of stroke, Beinart said.