What is an abnormal heart rhythm or arrhythmia ?
The human heart works to pump blood to your lungs and the rest of your body’s organs. Each time your heart beats it pumps blood throughout your body. Your heartbeat should have a steady rhythm to it.
An abnormal heart rhythm is called an Arrhythmia. Heart arrhythmia means your heart is beating too fast or too slow. It may even mean you have an irregular heartbeat (skips a beat or adds an extra beat). This abnormal heart rhythm prevents the correct amount of blood to continuously flow throughout your body. The majority of arrhythmias are harmless but some can be life threatening.
What causes heart arrhythmia?
Your heart has an electrical system that it depends on to continuously pump your body’s blood. If this electrical system has a glitch – an extra signal, a blocked or slowed signal, or the wrong signal – you have an irregular heartbeat.
There are both external and internal causes for arrhythmia. You may have been born with a heart disease (congenital), have an enlarged heart or an overactive thyroid. Prior heart attacks can cause damage to the heart muscle, which can also lead to an irregular heartbeat. Nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, amphetamines, other stimulants and potassium are a few of the external substances that may cause your hear to beat irregularly.
There are various abnormal heart rhythms. The most common include:
- Atrial fibrillation or flutter.
- Atrioventricular nodal reentry tachycardia (AVNRT)
- Heart block or atrioventricular block
- Multifocal atrial tachycardia
- Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia
- Sick sinus syndrome
- Ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia
- Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome
What are the symptoms of arrhythmia ?
It is important to note that symptoms may not always be present; they may even come and go. Depending on your level of activity symptoms may range from non-existent to mild to severe. The most common symptom of heart arrhythmia is the feeling that your heart is fluttering. Otherwise known as heart palpitations, this flutter can be quite scary when felt. Other common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
How is arrhythmia diagnosed ?
The first things your doctor will do is listen to your heart beat through a stethoscope and feel and count your pulse rate. If you come in having experienced any symptoms (even if you are not at the time of your visit) your doctor will most likely order one or more of the following diagnostic tests to identify your exact diagnosis.
- Blood tests
- Chest X-Ray
- Coronary Angiography
- Holter and Event Monitors
- Implantable loop recorder
- Stress test
- Tilt table
How is arrhythmia treated ?
Depending on the severity of your arrhythmia your doctor may choose any number of ways to treat you
In more mild cases you doctor may continue to monitor you while working with you to eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy level of activity. If you smoke, drink alcohol or other stimulants you will need to cut them out of your routine.
For more serious heart arrhythmias your physician may prescribe medications (these may be either oral or intravenous). You may also need to have your heart “shocked” into a normal rhythm. This is also called defibrillation or cardioversion. Additionally, your physician may want to implant a short-term heart pacemaker in your heart to help it get return to a regular heartbeat.