Check out how one of our members, Ms Arundhuti Sinha, battled the sick sinus syndrome — a rare cardiac rhythm disease — and learn to live with it, albeit with some lifestyle restrictions.
“There was an unusual breathlessness, dizziness, darkness in front of my eyes which grew intense day by day. My parents consulted several doctors but none of them was able to diagnose the problem in the beginning. Then a doctor after doing different tests, diagnosed me with the sick sinus syndrome. I was recommended a pacemaker as I suffered frequent blackouts, had irregular heartbeats, severe palpitation and it became inconvenient for me to travel from my residence to college. I was a professor of economics at Bangabashi College in Kolkata. I continued my profession even after replacing the pacemaker five times. With some lifestyle restrictions like less use of electronic gadgets, I am still now attached with several non-government organisations (NGOs), which work for street children and the disabled. I help one of my neighbours with her official and bank work. I practise singing and play the sitar, which gives me pleasure,” says Ms Arundhuti Sinha.
What is sick sinus syndrome?
It is a cardiac conduction disorder where a group of abnormal heart rhythms occur by malfunctioning of the sinus node. The node is the natural pacemaker situated in the heart and it controls the pace and rhythm of the heartbeat. The two-variant sick sinus syndrome is tachycardia and bradycardia in which the arrhythmia alternates between slow and fast heart rates.
Though the symptoms vary from individual to individual but the most common are
- • Shortness of breadth
- • Slower than normal pulse
- • Dizziness/ fainting
- • Palpitation
- • Fatigue
- • Chest pain
- • Headache
- • Nausea
Sick sinus syndrome occurs normally in people older than 50. But sometimes even younger people may develop the disease. The cause is often a non-specific, but it is often due to degeneration, damage to the sinoatrial node or scar-like damage to electrical pathways in the heart muscle tissue. Coronary artery disease, high blood pressure may be associated with sick sinus syndrome, although this association may be incidental.
Diagnosis can be done through monitoring of the electrocardiogram (ECG) during the time of palpitation. Sometimes because of low specificity and sensitivity ECG tests may not reveal the disease, so it may be revealed by tilt table testing.
Treatment depends on the severity of the heart rhythm disorder. Sometimes lifestyle changes or medication may help to control the disease. Artificial pacemakers are normally used for the treatment of sick sinus syndrome as bradyarrhythmias respond well to pacemakers but tachyarrhythmias respond well to medical therapy. There are several other procedures but that depends on the condition of the patient. Improvements in pacemaker technology have greatly helped the outlook for the sick sinus syndrome. Seeking help from doctors is always advisable.
Dr Avik Basu, general practitioner and intensivist, advises: "Sick sinus syndrome is quite a common cardiac ailment in which the cardiac pacemaker (called the S.A. node) gets affected. It may be idiopathic (causes unknown) or a result of a cardiac ischaemic event. The affected S.A. node fails to produce cardiac impulse at a regular rate and the individual complains of palpitation. Due to the irregular heartbeats, the blood supply to the brain is compromised sometimes. That leads to the symptoms of blackouts or dizziness. The disease as such cannot be prevented. But once it is diagnosed, it can definitely be kept under control. Mild degree of sick sinus syndrome can be handled by medical means. Also, the patient must be counselled regarding the need for his/her lifestyle changes. Moderate to severe cases which impair the daily activities of the patient can be suitably managed by permanent pacemaker implantation. So, the disease isn’t a life-threatening one. Rather, it carries a good prognosis."
*Note: Take a specialist’s advice before deciding on the course of action