Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource, February 2011: Devices Help Hearts Keep Pace; Genetic Counselors Offer Information and S

ROCHESTER, Minn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Here are highlights from the February issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource. You may cite this publication as often as you wish. Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource attribution is required. Reprinting is allowed for a fee. Include the following subscription information as your editorial policies permit: Visit or call toll-free for subscription information, 1-800-876-8633, extension 9751.

Update: Devices Help Hearts Keep Pace

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- As more people live longer with heart disease, the use of pacemakers and other heart-helping devices has grown. The February issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource covers how these devices are used to treat heart disease. Here is a description of two devices.

Pacemakers -- A heart rate that’s slower than normal, a condition called bradycardia, is the most common reason for pacemaker implantation. Pacemakers also are used to treat heart rates that alternate between too fast and too slow, as well as rapid, irregular heartbeats.

A pacemaker is surgically implanted, usually near the collarbone. Two wires, called pacing leads, connect the device to the heart. When the heart rate slows, speeds up or becomes irregular, the pacemaker fires electrical pulses to the heart. The stimulation helps the heart beat at a proper rate or pace.

Implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) -- Defibrillating or shocking the heart is the only way to stop certain life-threatening heart rhythm problems and restore normal rhythm. Defibrillation can be done externally, with chest paddles or a computerized device, or internally with an ICD.

Like a pacemaker, an ICD is surgically implanted under the skin. Typically, it’s connected via wires to the heart’s right ventricle. When the device detects dangerous rhythms, it delivers a lifesaving shock that may feel like a kick in the chest.

ICDs may be recommended for people who have had a previous cardiac arrest, have a history of severe heart damage from a heart attack or heart failure, or have an inherited disease that increases risk of heart rhythm abnormalities.

People who have heart rhythm devices usually lead active lives that can include exercise and most sports. While the devices don’t cure heart disease, they allow people to live fuller, longer lives.

Genetic Counselors Offer Information, Support on Genetic Conditions

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- People dealing with a diagnosis of cancer or a genetic condition might benefit from seeing a genetic counselor. The February issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource covers the role of genetic counselors and common reasons that people seek their expertise.

A genetic counselor reviews personal and family history to assess the risk of disease development or recurrence, interprets medical data and test results, discusses the pros and cons of genetic testing, and provides education about disease prevention, screening and treatment.

Genetic counselors have specialized graduate degrees and training in genetics and counseling. However, they aren’t doctors and don’t provide specific recommendations about testing or treatment.

Carrie Zabel is a board-certified genetic counselor at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. She provides patients with information needed to make informed medical decisions and to help them adapt to information that may have medical and psychological implications for themselves and their families.

“I most often see individuals who have had one or more family members with a certain type of cancer and who want to know what this may mean for them,” says Zabel. Certain genes can be singled out for testing and will help determine if someone is at higher risk of developing breast, ovarian, colon and uterine cancers.

Women or couples considering pregnancy often seek out genetic counseling when there are questions about the likelihood of a child being born with a genetic condition or birth defect.

A genetic counselor may provide insight about chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, even when these illnesses aren’t associated with a specific gene. The counselor may be able to establish a level of risk for the chronic illness based on the number of relatives with the condition, at what age the illness occurred, and what environmental and lifestyle factors family members share.

It’s important for people to gather family medical histories prior to seeing a genetic counselor. The U.S. surgeon general offers a free online resource, “My Family Health Portrait,” to help organize family medical histories. It can be found at

Graves’ Disease: Disorder of Excess Thyroid Hormones More Common in Women

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Graves’ disease, a disorder where the thyroid gland makes more thyroid hormone than the body needs, is five to 10 times more common in women than men. The February issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource covers Graves’ disease, including symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options.

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck. As a result, the thyroid overproduces two thyroid hormones that help regulate metabolism -- essentially, how the body uses energy. With excess thyroid hormones, bodily functions can shift to overdrive. Signs and symptoms can include irritability, heart palpitations, trouble sleeping, fatigue, weight loss, sensitivity to heat, anxiety, changes in the menstrual cycle, frequent bowel movements and an enlarged thyroid gland.

Graves’ disease can occur at any age, but most often starts before 40. The disease is rarely life-threatening. But without treatment, Graves’ disease can lead to heart problems and weak and brittle bones. Diagnosis is based on an exam, medical history and laboratory tests.

Treatment options include:

Anti-thyroid medications: Drugs such as methimazole (Tapazole) prevent the thyroid from producing excess hormones. After treatment for one to two years, some people return to normal thyroid production and no longer need the medication.

Radioactive iodine therapy: This therapy, which is swallowed as a liquid, destroys thyroid cells so less thyroid hormones are produced. A typical result is an underactive thyroid. In that case, people must take synthetic thyroid hormones for life. This therapy is considered low-risk for most adults.

Surgery: Surgeons remove most or all of the thyroid gland. Again, synthetic hormones must be taken for life. Surgery may be recommended for people who can’t tolerate anti-thyroid medications or who don’t have success with radioactive iodine therapy.

Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource is published monthly to help women enjoy healthier, more productive lives. Revenue from subscriptions is used to support medical research at Mayo Clinic. To subscribe, please call 1-800-876-8633, extension 9751, (toll-free) or visit


Mayo Clinic
Ginger Plumbo
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