Cheney Back At Work After Heart Procedure

Vice President Dick Cheney speaks at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Weinberg Founders Conference, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2007, in Lansdowne, Va. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones) AP Photo/Caleb Jones

Vice President Dick Cheney was back in his office Tuesday morning following the latest procedure to control an irregular heartbeat. A spokesman said Cheney plans a normal work day, CBS News White House correspondent Peter Maer reports.

On Monday, doctors at George Washington University Hospital administered an electrical shock to Cheney's heart and restored it to a normal rhythm during a 2½ hour visit.

The procedure was described as a low-risk, standard practice.

Cheney, 66, who has a history of heart problems, was discovered to have an irregular heartbeat around 7 a.m. when he was seen by doctors at the White House for a lingering cough from a cold. He remained at work throughout the day, joining President Bush in meetings with Mideast leaders.

The irregular heartbeat was determined to be atrial fibrillation, an abnormal rhythm involving the upper chambers of the heart, said spokeswoman Megan Mitchell. He went to the hospital about 5 p.m. and was discharged about 7:30 p.m.

"Atrial fibrillation is extremely common," said Dr. Zayd Eldadah, an electrophysiologist and director of cardiac arrhythmia research at Washington Hospital Center. "The way to get rid of it right away is to do what he did today. This is standard practice, low risk, easy to do."

He said Cheney's underlying heart problems were probably a factor in his atrial fibrillation. Aging is a common factor, too.

"He'll probably have other episodes," said Eldadah, who is not involved in Cheney's care. "Atrial fibrillation in and of itself is not threatening. The problem is that it has long term consequences. It increases the risk of stroke." He said Cheney probably would be put on the most potent blood thinner.

Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay described atrial fibrillation as "a common problem. About 2.8 million Americans have this problem and it's getting more common as the American population ages."

Senay said "it's a matter of disordered beating of the upper part of the heart, the atrium. When they don't beat correctly, they sort of quiver or shake a bit like Jell-O. It creates symptoms in many people, although in Cheney's case, apparently, he had no symptoms related to his heart."

But if the irregular heartbeat continues, it eventually can cause a life-threatening complication - the formation of blood clots that can shoot to the brain and cause a stroke.

The main treatment is to try an electrical shock to restore normal heartbeat. If that doesn't work, patients may need to take the blood thinner warfarin to reduce stroke risk.

"An electrical impulse was used to restore the upper chambers to normal rhythm," Mitchell said. "The procedure went smoothly and without complication. The vice president has returned home and will resume his normal schedule tomorrow at the White House."

It's the latest twist in a long catalog of health problems for the nation's second-highest office holder, reports CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante. Cheney has had four heart attacks, the first back in 1978 when he was just 37 years old. He's also had quadruple bypass surgery, two angioplasties, an operation in 2001 to implant a defibrillator, which monitors his heartbeat, and over the summer, a procedure to replace that device.

The type of defibrillator Cheney has is used to prevent sudden death from a very different type of irregular heartbeat that starts in the bottom of the heart. The atrial fibrillation, in contrast, requires a different type of treatment.

In 2005, Cheney had six hours of surgery on his legs to repair a kind of aneurysm, a ballooning weak spot in an artery that can burst if left untreated. In March, doctors discovered that he had a deep venous thrombosis in his left lower leg. After an ultrasound in late April, doctors said the clot was slowly getting smaller.
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