Arrhythmia: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatments

Overview

The arrhythmia is a condition in which the heart beats too fast, too slowly or erratically. Any change to the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat can be called an arrhythmia.

There are several types of arrhythmia, including:

  • Bradycardia in which the heart beats slowly
  • Tachycardia in which the heart beats very fast
  • Atrial fibrillation (AFib) in which the upper heart chamber contracts irregularly
  • Conduction disorders in which the heart beats abnormally
  • Ventricular fibrillation means lower chambers of the heart contract in a disorganized way
  • Premature contraction

The most common type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation. According to CDC, estimated 2.7–6.1 million people in the United States have AFib. With the aging of the U.S. population, this number is expected to increase.

Approximately 2% of people younger than age 65 have AFib, while about 9% of people aged 65 years or older have AFib.

African Americans are less likely than those of European descent to have AFib.

Causes

An arrhythmia can be triggered by many things, including:

  • Advancing age
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • European ancestry
  • Diabetes
  • Heart failure
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Smoking
  • Enlargement of the chambers on the left side of the heart
  • Heart attack
  • Sleep apnea
  • Genetics
  • Certain medications and supplements
  • Blocked arteries in your heart (coronary artery disease)

Symptoms

Obviously, you may feel an irregular heartbeat, like fast or slow heartbeat. Other symptoms you may experience include:

  • Fainting or nearly fainting
  • Foggy thinking
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Weakness, dizziness, and light-headedness
  • Anxiety
  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing

Complications

Certain arrhythmias may accompany complications such as:

Stroke

When your heart quivers, blood cannot be pumped effectively, causing blood to pool. This can form blood clots. If a clot moves from heart to brain, it might block blood flow, leading to a stroke.

Heart failure

If your heart is pumping ineffectively for too long because of a bradycardia or tachycardia, heart failure will be a result. Sometimes controlling the rate of an arrhythmia can help your heart function properly.

Diagnosis

To diagnose a heart arrhythmia, you should firstly tell your doctor all your symptoms and medical history, and take a physical examination. Then you may need to have some heart-monitoring tests which include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) which measures the timing and duration of each electrical phase in your heartbeat.
  • Echocardiogram which uses sound waves to produce images of your heart’s size, structure and motion.
  • Event monitor. If you have sporadic arrhythmias, you can use this to check your heart rhythms at the time of symptoms.
  • Holter monitor in which you wear a portable ECG device for a day or more to record your heart’s activity as you go about your routine.
  • Implantable loop recorder which detects abnormal heart rhythms and is implanted under the skin in the chest area.

If the above tests cannot help to diagnose arrhythmias, you need to take some other tests including:

Stress test

In a stress test, your heart activity is monitored when you are doing some exercises. Some arrhythmias can be triggered by exercises.

Tilt table test

If you are not able to stand up by yourself, your doctor may recommend this test. In this test, your heart rate and blood pressure are monitored when you lie flat on a table. And then the table will be tilted to see how your heart and the nervous system that controls it respond to the change in angle.

Electrophysiological testing and mapping

This test helps your doctor see the location of the arrhythmia and what may be causing it.

Treatment

Treatment for an arrhythmia may or may not be a must. Usually, it’s required only if the arrhythmia is causing health-threatening symptoms or if it gives rise to a more serious arrhythmia or arrhythmia complication.

  • Vagal maneuvers, such as holding your breath and straining, dunking your face in ice water, or coughing.
  • The medications prescribed by your doctor can control your heart rate or restore a normal heart rhythm.
  • Cardioversion in which a shock is delivered to your heart through paddles or patches on your chest.
  • Catheter ablation in which the doctor threads one or more catheters through your blood vessels to your heart.
  • A pacemaker is an implantable device placed under the skin near the collarbone that helps control abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) is recommended when you are at high risk of developing a dangerously fast or irregular heartbeat in the lower half of your heart.
  • Maze procedure in which a surgeon makes a series of surgical incisions in the heart tissue in the upper half of your heart. Since it requires surgery, it’s suitable when other treatments fail.
  • Coronary bypass surgery that may improve the blood flow to your heart.

Lifestyle changes

Healthy lifestyles can prevent arrhythmia effectively. These lifestyle changes may include:

  • Eat heart-healthy foods
  • Exercise regularly
  • Quit smoking
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control
  • Control alcohol consumption
  • Maintain follow-up care

Key words: arrhythmia.

Related Posts:

What Does Sinus Arrhythmia Mean?

Basics about Arrhythmia in Children

What Is Tachycardia Arrhythmia?

What to do about sinus arrhythmia and tachycardia?

What Is the Difference Between Cardiac Arrhythmia and Atrial Fibrillation?

What does Dysrhythmia Mean?

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.