A new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis finds that how the body responds to ventricular premature beat (VPB) -- a condition in which the left ventricle, the heart's main pumping chamber, receives an inappropriate signal, causing it to beat before it should -- can predict cardiac-related death.
How the body responds to VPB is called turbulence, which can be measured with a device called a Holter monitor.
In VPB, the heartbeat speeds up to make up for the decreased amount of blood being pumped out of the heart. Since the heart empties earlier than it should (because it is filled with more blood during the beat following VPB), the heart pumps more blood to the rest of the body than is necessary.
Healthy hearts, by contrast, speed up and slow down to make up for over- and under-filling.
Analyzing the Holter monitor recordings for nearly 1,300 patients aged 65 and older taken between 1989 and 1993, researchers found abnormal heart rate turbulence to be predictive of cardiac death. Of 357 healthy patients (who presented no evidence of disease), 21 had abnormal heart turbulence and were almost eight times more likely to die of cardiac causes than the rest of the healthy group.
Heart disease is the nation's No. 1 killer of men and women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common heart disease is coronary artery disease, in which plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart and cause heart attacks.