Arrhythmias – Definition
Arrhythmias are abnormal beats of the heart. Types of arrhythmias include:
- Heartbeats that are too slow ( bradycardia)
- Heartbeats that are too fast ( tachycardia)
- Extra beats
- Skipped beats
- Beats coming from abnormal areas of the heart
Arrhythmias – Causes
An arrhythmia can be caused by:
- The heart’s natural pacemaker (SA node) developing an abnormal rate or rhythm
- The normal conduction pathway being interrupted
- Another part of the heart taking over as pacemaker
Arrhythmias – Risk Factors
Factors that may increase the risk of arrhythmias include:
- Lifestyle factors, such as excess caffeine, stress, smoking, alcohol abuse, drug abuse (eg, cocaine abuse)
- Certain medicines, such as diet pills, decongestants, antidepressants, digitalis
- Heart-related conditions, such as coronary artery disease, problems with heart valves, heart muscle damage after heart attack, rheumatic heart disease, cardiomyopathy
- Other conditions, such as anemia, high blood pressure, diabetes, liver disease, endocrine disorders (eg, thyroid or adrenal gland problems), typhoid fever, hypothermia, electric shock or lightening strike, near-drowning
Arrhythmias – Symptoms
Some arrhythmias may occur without any symptoms. Others may cause noticeable symptoms, such as:
- Dizziness, sensation of light-headedness
- Sensation of your heart fluttering (palpitations)
- Sensation of a missed or extra heart beat
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Arrhythmias – Diagnosis
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done. The doctor will listen to your heart with an instrument called a stethoscope.
Tests may include:
- Blood tests and urine tests
- Electrocardiogram (EKG) — records the heart’s activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle
- Echocardiogram — uses ultrasound to examine the size, shape, and motion of the heart
- 24-hour holter monitor (a portable EKG that you wear as you do your daily activities)
- Exercise stress test — records the heart’s electrical activity during increased physical activity
- Nuclear scanning — shows how well blood is flowing through the heart
- Coronary angiography — allows the doctor to look for abnormalities in the arteries and evaluate the function of the heart
- Electrophysiological study — shows electrical impulses as they travel through the heart
Arrhythmias – Treatment
Treatment may include:
- Anti-arrhythmic medicines — Depending on your need, these will help slow down or speed up your heart rate or return your heart rhythm to normal.
- Cardioversion — These treatments involve placing paddles on the chest or back. An electrical current is passed through the chest wall to the heart to reset its electrical circuits and attempt to return the heart rhythm to normal.
- Automatic implantable defibrillator — A tiny defibrillator can be surgically implanted in your chest to monitor your heart rhythm. If a dangerous arrhythmia is detected, the device automatically shocks the heart in an attempt to return the heart rhythm to normal.
- Artificial pacemaker — The pacemaker is surgically implanted in your chest. It takes over the job of providing the electrical impulses needed for establishing an appropriate heart rhythm.
- Ablation — An area of the heart that is responsible for an abnormal rhythm may be surgically removed or altered (ablated) with various techniques.
- Maze procedure and mini-maze procedure — The Maze procedure creates a pattern of scar tissue in the upper chambers of the heart. This makes a pathway for electrical impulses to travel through the heart and blocks the pathway for fast or irregular impulses. The Maze procedure may also be done as minimally invasive surgery (called mini-Maze ).
If you are diagnosed with an arrhythmia, follow your doctor’s instructions.
Arrhythmias – Prevention
To help prevent arrhythmias:
- Treat underlying conditions that might lead to arrhythmias.
- Avoid substances (eg, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, certain medicines) that trigger or worsen an arrhythmia.
- Follow general advice for preventing the development of heart disease, including:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Talk to your doctor about a safe exercise program.
- Do not smoke. If you smoke, quit.
- Eat a healthy diet, one that is low in saturated fat and rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- If you have chronic condition, get proper treatment.
- Ask your doctor if you should take cholesterol-lowering medicine.