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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Before he raced off to work: Perceptive listening about ventricular tachycardia

Dr. Bernard Lown describes how he found "The Hidden Clue:"

A college president consulted doctors over a decade for ventricular tachycardia, a very serious heart-rhythm disorder. He had been hospitalized in many of this country's leading centers and more than a dozen different medications had been tried, all to no avail. On his first visit, I asked at what time of day the arrhythmia occurred. He responded that it was almost consistently in the morning, before he raced off to work. When questioned further, he stated that it happened between about 7:30 and 8:30 am.

After gathering more information, I told the patient that his problem would be solved if he set an alarm clock to 5:30 am and as soon as he awoke, took a double dose of an anti-arrhythmic medication before going back to sleep. Following this counsel for the next eight years, he was totally free of arrhythmia.

It is astonishing that no doctor had tried to identify the precise time the arrhythmia occurred. Taking a much larger total dose of the same drug at intervals around the clock, as he had been told to do, provoked many adverse symptoms without containing the arrhythmia. The reason for the failure was straightforward. His evening dose had dissipated by early morning. The morning dose was taken too close to the onset of the disordered heart rhythm for the drug to have reached an effective therapeutic blood level. Furthermore, he needed a higher dose at that time to prevent the arrhythmia from breaking through. No amount of technical wizardry could have resolved his difficult problem. The solution would never have been unearthed without the information the patient provided.

Frequently a patient not only tells what is wrong but provides information suggesting how best to manage the problem.

Advice to patient and patient advocates: Be sure you have a doctor who asks you enough questions to perceptively diagnose your condition.

Read more from Dr. Lown's essay, "The Hidden Clue," in The Lost Art of Healing.

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