Specialty: Cardiac Electrophysiology
Special Expertise: Heart Disease in Women
Hospitals: Vassar Brothers Medical Center; Northern Dutchess Hospital
Her efforts may clash with love songs, but Sarah B. Levin, MD, treats patients to ensure their hearts don’t skip any beats. Cardiac electrophysiologists are the “electricians” of the heart, she says, addressing and in some cases fixing any faulty wiring that causes abnormal rhythm or pacing. And as a wife and mother with a family history of heart disease, Dr. Levin knows it’s important to live the heart-healthy lifestyle she prescribes, to acknowledge the challenges, and to give her patients strategies and support.
What can a cardiac “electrician” do for the heart?
The heart has its own specialized electrical system; and a cardiac electrophysiologist has spent three to four years training for various procedures and surgeries. For patients at risk of sudden cardiac death, an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) may be an option. For my patients whose hearts beat too slowly, I’ll put in a pacemaker. For abnormal rhythms, we use techniques like ablation to ‘re-wire’ a pathway that’s causing trouble. We place a four-millimeter catheter on the problem spot, apply a few seconds of heat energy — and the problem gets better or completely goes away. One of the most fun things about my specialty is the problem-solving nature. Electrically, no two hearts are the same. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach.
As a wife and mother, do you find that women need to take more control of their heart health?
It’s evident that women are the primary gatekeepers of their families’ eating and activity levels. Even if they work, they’re usually responsible for shopping and meals; and while this is a challenge, it’s also a tremendous opportunity to help their families avoid developing cardiac disease such as diabetes, obesity, stroke, or heart attack. In the same vein, I encourage women to take care of themselves first. A lot of women will let their own health slide, to their detriment. They’ll stop treating their blood pressure or tracking their weight. But there’s such strong potential for prevention that makes a big impact.
Which breakthroughs in cardiology are helping your patients?
The biggest has been in pacing technology. Some of my patients rely on pacemakers to slow their heart rhythm when the wiring system is wonky. Traditionally, it’s a battery pack-generator with wires that go to the heart. My partners and I are now implanting trans-catheter pacing systems that are self-contained and wireless, going in through the leg vein to the heart. This is a game-changer for our patients. There’s no external sign of a pacemaker, no scarring.
What are some myths and misconceptions that you encounter?
I continue to struggle with patients’ misconceptions about risks associated with medications. They’ll absorb things in the media: “I watched a show online that says cholesterol medicine is horrible poison.” But we know from data this same medication will decrease your risk of stroke, heart attack, or death with less risk than taking Tylenol. And this conception that anything “herbal” is safe, because it’s natural — I point out that arsenic is natural, too. I spend lots of time educating patients, sharing data.