Using this guide What's covered
Here you’ll find the answers to many of your questions about heart rhythm studies. Learn how they work, what it may cost, what your recovery may be like, and more.
To see how a study is done, view our animation below. For personal insights, see our patient experience videos in which HCF members talk frankly about their procedure and recovery.
What is a heart rhythm study?
Electricity usually flows through the heart in an ordered, regular pattern. The heart’s electrical system initiates contractions (or beats) of the heart muscle.
In a healthy heart, the electrical conduction system produces a carefully coordinated contraction that enables the heart to function effectively as a pump and push blood around the body.
Disruption of one or more of the electrical pathways may result in a cardiac arrhythmia (unusual rhythm), which will usually cause the heart to function less effectively. Whilst some arrhythmias are life-threatening, others can be relatively harmless.
Symptoms of arrhythmia may include persistent palpitations (being aware of your heart beating), dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath and fainting.
The precise nature, and, if possible, cause of the abnormal heart rhythm need to be diagnosed to select the best treatment. As part of their investigation into possible cardiac arrhythmia, your doctor may recommend a heart rhythm study, known as a cardiac electrophysiology study (EPS).
While EPS is a fairly invasive test and involves catheters being placed in the heart, it allows your specialist to collect and analyse precise data about your heart’s electrical activity.
Why is it done?
Non-invasive tests, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG), or a Holter monitor (which involves monitoring the hearts rhythm over a 24-48 hour period), can provide valuable information about the heart’s electrical activity. However, in many cases the arrhythmia is intermittent so isn’t captured at the time of these tests.
During an EPS study, the specialist can provoke an arrhythmia, allowing precise data to be collected about the abnormal electrical activity. It’s also possible to treat the problem during the study, using a special catheter to remove a cluster of cells responsible for the abnormal rhythm.
It may also be necessary to implant an artificial pacemaker to initiate and control the heart rhythm, or a defibrillator to interrupt any life-threatening arrhythmias. Learn more about pacemakers and defibrillators.
Where is it done?
An electrophysiology study is done in a special room called an EPS laboratory, within a hospital. It’s often attached to the cardiac ward or coronary care unit. The average length of stay is two days.
How long does it take?
A simple cardiac electrophysiology test generally takes 1-1.5 hours, but it may take longer if treatment is needed.
Who is involved?
- Your electrophysiologist
Preparing for the procedure
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