Overview Of Arrhythmia

An arrhythmia is when a person’s heart rate or rhythm is abnormal in some way. These abnormalities can include the heart beating too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia), or in an irregular rhythm.

An arrhythmia can be a symptom of other heart issues, completely harmless, or an immediate danger to a person’s health. The condition is highly variable on a case-by-case basis.

The most commonly seen types of arrhythmias are:

Commonly Associated With

Fibrillation, Bradycardia, Abnormal heart rhythms, and Tachycardia

Causes Of Arrhythmia

The heart’s main function is to pump blood to and from the lungs and then do the same for the rest of the person’s body.

In order to beat properly, the heart has an electrical system that is in charge of making sure it contracts and relaxes in the correct rhythm and at the correct speed.

Arrhythmias tend to come about due to problems with some aspect of the heart’s electrical conduction system.

These abnormalities can include: Abnormal or extra electrical signals, blocked or slower than normal electrical signals, or electrical signals traveling in new or unexpected pathways through the heart instead of the normal ones.

Common causes of abnormal heart rhythms include:

Another type of arrhythmia can be caused by an overactive thyroid gland, which will often come about because of certain substances, such as:

  • The nicotine from cigarette smoking
  • Specific medications
  • Stimulant-type drugs or alcohol

Symptoms Of Arrhythmia

For those with arrhythmias, their heart rate may be either:

  • Too fast, which is called tachycardia
  • Too slow, which is called bradycardia
  • Uneven or irregular, possibly with skipped or extra beats

Arrhythmias can be constantly present and measurable, or they may appear and then go away at random. Some experience symptoms, but many do not. Many notice symptoms only during periods of physical activity.

Symptoms can be absent, very mild, or severe. But sometimes, this condition can even be life-threatening.

Common symptoms, if they are present, can include:

  • Palpitations (the person feels their heart is beating too fast or irregularly)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Sweating that is inappropriate for the situation
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Unusual paleness

Exams & Tests

A health care provider will perform a physical exam, making sure to focus on areas such as the person’s heart and pulse. The patient’s blood pressure could be a range of values, such as lower than normal, average, or even higher than normal.

The most often used diagnostic test for arrhythmia is an ECG. Other tests, if done, are then added on to be sure of the diagnosis.

These additional tests can then include:

  • An echocardiogram
  • A Holter monitor
  • An electrophysiology study (EPS)
  • An event monitor or loop recorder
  • A coronary angiography

Treatment Of Arrhythmia

Serious cases of arrhythmia may need urgent treatment as soon as possible. However, there are a great number of possible treatments available for use.

Some treatments that are commonly done can include:

  • IV or oral medications
  • The surgical implantation of a short-term pacemaker
  • In some cases, as a result of improving the treatment for a person’s angina or heart failure, their chances of developing an arrhythmia can lower
  • Electrical therapy, through either cardioversion or defibrillation

Other treatment options include anti-arrhythmic medications. These can help:

  • Keep the person’s heart rate normal (so not too fast or too slow)
  • Prevent the condition from reoccurring, but only in some cases

Other treatments options can also include:

  • A permanent pacemaker
  • An implantable cardioverter defibrillator
  • A cardiac ablation