Mikulski released from hospital

irregular heartbeat is treated

Staff says senator plans to return to work Monday

July 16, 2005|By Gwyneth K. Shaw | Gwyneth K. Shaw,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski was released from Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore yesterday after treatment for an irregular heartbeat, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Democrat said.

Mikulski, who will turn 69 on Wednesday, was admitted to the hospital Monday after complaining of feeling tired. Her doctor ordered tests, and the heart problem - atrial fibrillation - was discovered, spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said.

Mikulski will be back at work Monday, Schwartz said. The condition is treatable with medication, and Mikulski should be able to maintain her regular schedule, according to a statement released by her office.

More than 2 million people suffer from atrial fibrillation. Dr. Thea Calkins, director of the Heart Program for Women at Mercy, said it becomes increasingly common with age.

"A lot of older people live with it just fine," said Calkins, who did not treat Mikulski and has no personal knowledge of her condition.

When the heart functions normally, the top and bottom chambers work in concert, Calkins said, with the top chamber priming the pump for the bottom chamber, which pumps blood through the body. With atrial defibrillation, the top chamber beats erratically - often much more quickly than usual - and in turn throws off the bottom chamber, which also beats at a rapid rate.

Feeling tired is one symptom of an abnormal heartbeat, Calkins said.

Without treatment, Calkins said, congestive heart failure can develop, as can dangerous blood clots, because blood is not moving through the top chamber efficiently. Medication can help make the heartbeat more regular, and patients are often given anticoagulants as well to ward off blood clots, which can cause a stroke if they reach the brain.

An irregular heartbeat is easily diagnosed with an electrocardiogram, which measures heart rhythm, Calkins said. But doctors typically need time to determine whether there are other causes of the anomaly - such as hypertension, blocked arteries, or a thyroid problem. Once medication is prescribed, she said, a doctor also needs to watch the patient to see how well the heart rhythm is being controlled and whether there is a threat of blood clots.

The Senate has votes scheduled Monday, as it continues debate on a spending measure dealing with the State Department and other overseas government operations. This week, Mikulski missed a number of votes on the homeland security budget, which the Senate approved Thursday night.

Mikulski was not available for comment, but a statement released by her office thanked the staff at Mercy and everyone who sent get-well wishes.

"I have thought a lot in recent days about how fortunate I am to have this quality of care," Mikulski said. "I can't wait to get back to work - to continue my fight to ensure that all Americans have access to the best possible health care, and to meet the day-to-day needs of Marylanders and the long-term needs of our nation."

The longest-serving woman in the Senate, Mikulski would become the state's senior senator after Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes retires next year. She is a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and the Intelligence Committee, as well as the panel that oversees health, employment, labor and pension issues.

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