Abnormal Heart Rhythm

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:

  •  Dizziness
  •  Shortness of breath
  •  Chest pain
  •  Fainting
  •  Sweating

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
  •  EKG
  •  Echocardiography
  •  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.

Smoking is a major risk for several diseases including heart disease, stroke, and several cancers. Even low-tar cigarettes and light smoking can increase the risk of heart disease substantially. There are now several alternative approaches to helping people stop smoking. These include nicotine-replacement patches and gum as well as oral medication.

If you are able to stop smoking, your risk of a heart attack or stroke decreases within a few weeks. The risk goes down to that of a nonsmoker within about 2 years. In addition, a lot of patients comment that they feel healthier and have more energy after they've stopped smoking.

Hypothyroidism can increase blood cholesterol levels and that contributes to heart disease; however, if the hypothyroidism is being treated with a thyroid hormone, then the cholesterol returns to normal.

Birth control pills can cause a small increase in the risk of thrombosis and heart attack. That occurs mainly in people who have been on the pill for more than 10 years and who smoke cigarettes.

There is an increase in the risk of heart attack if a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) has had a heart attack or stroke. That is mainly seen when the relative has had a heart attack before the age of 45 if they are male, 55 if they are female. Obviously, you cannot change your family history, but a positive history should suggest the need to improve all the other risk factors like stopping smoking and decreasing cholesterol.

Heart disease is potentially reversible by attending to risk factors like cholesterol, blood pressure, and smoking. Several studies have shown, for example, that aggressive lowering of blood cholesterol with LDL levels below 100 can open up blocked coronary arteries at least partially. Perhaps I should explain that LDL cholesterol is the "bad" cholesterol component.

I would suggest a diet that is balanced among all the main food groups, with fat content making up no more than 30 percent of calories and most of that fat being unsaturated. I would not advise patients to eat a diet that is restricted in carbohydrates or fruits and vegetables, because this may adversely affect vitamin intake and blood cholesterol.

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