What Is Arrhythmia?

A heart or cardiac arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat. Most people have experienced a harmless arrhythmia at some point. But knowing when to spot a serious arrhythmia can be critical to effective treatment and preventing damage. Learn more here.

9 minute read

Last Updated July 7, 2020

Heart Arrhythmia: Causes, Symptoms, and Long-Term Outlook

A heart arrhythmia or cardiac arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat. When the electrical impulses that coordinate your heartbeats are not functioning properly, the heartbeat becomes disrupted (cardiac dysrhythmia). It can beat too quickly or too slowly. 

Most people have experienced an arrhythmia at some point but likely did not have any symptoms. Many are harmless, but if they are the result of a weakened or damaged heart, arrhythmia's are much more serious.

What Causes Heart Arrhythmia?

The cause is an interruption in the electrical impulses that make your heart contract. There are a number of factors that can cause this disruption.

♦ Alcohol or drug abuse
♦ Diabetes
Hypertension
♦ Mental stress
Smoking
♦ Hyperthyroidism
Heart disease
♦ Structural changes in the heart

If you are healthy, an arrhythmia will not cause long-term damage unless there is an external trigger such as alcohol abuse or an electric shock. If, however, you have an underlying condition, your electrical impulses may be disrupted more frequently, which could increase your risk for arrhythmia.

Heart Arrhythmia Symptoms

The symptoms of arrhythmias vary and will either indicate a harmless condition or alert you to a more serious problem. To be safe, you should seek medical attention if you suspect any arrhythmia symptoms are present. Common symptoms include:

♦ Feeling like your heart is skipping a beat
♦ A heartbeat that is too slow
♦ An irregular heartbeat
♦ A racing heartbeat

More serious symptoms will include the following:

Chest pain
Shortness of breath
♦ Severe heart palpitations
♦ Anxiety
Sweating
Lightheadedness or dizziness

Heart Arrhythmia Diagnosis

Diagnosis involves the doctor discovering what is triggering the arrhythmia. They will interview you, take a medical and family history as well as take notes on your diet and lifestyle. 

There are also several tests your doctor can perform to diagnose arrhythmia.

♦ Blood and urine tests
♦ Electrocardiogram
♦ Echocardiogram
♦ Chest x-ray
♦ Heart catheterization

Heart Arrhythmia Treatment

Treatment is only required when the patient is at risk of more serious arrhythmia, heart complications, or if symptoms are very severe. The treatment for arrhythmia also depends on which type you have. 

Treatment for tachycardia: There are a number of treatments available for tachycardia. Vagal maneuvers are movements that you can do to stop some types of arrhythmia that start in the upper atria of the heart. There are also medications that can help to control electrical conduction in the heart. Electric shock or cardioversion is also a possibility to reset the hearts natural rhythm. 

Treatments for bradycardia: Bradycardia is caused by an underlying condition that must first be treated. If there is no underlying cause, then a pacemaker can be inserted to help control the heartbeat and promote a regular heart rhythm. 

Heart Arrhythmia Diet

There are certain foods that have an impact on your heart rate. Avoiding these foods will help you prevent the triggering of an arrhythmia. Caffeine and other stimulants like alcohol should be avoided. Following a heart-healthy diet will also lower your risk for an arrhythmia. You should also avoid fad diets that can disrupt electrolytes in your blood, which also increase the chances of an arrhythmia. 

Natural Treatments for Heart Arrhythmia

There are a number of home remedies you can try to help stop irregular heartbeats. If there is an underlying health condition causing the arrhythmia, this needs to be addressed first. The following treatments can help reduce heart palpitations.

♦ Perform relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing.
♦ Cut down on stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, and illegal drugs.
♦ Keep electrolytes balanced with sports drinks.
♦ Stay hydrated because dehydration causes your heart to work harder.
♦ Exercise regularly to restore the heart’s rhythm naturally.

Heart Arrhythmia Surgery

A pacemaker can be installed in individuals with bradycardia if necessary. This will help set a healthier heart rate. For those with tachycardia, there are a few surgical procedures that may be used to correct the defective heartbeat.

♦ The Maze procedure involves a series of incisions that heal to form scars that block the electrical impulses, which eventually will allow the heart to beat more efficiently.

♦ Ventricular aneurysm surgery involves the removal of an aneurysm if one is detected to be the cause of the arrhythmia.

♦ Coronary bypass surgery is where arteries from another part of the body are grafted to the damaged ones to bypass and improve blood supply to the heart muscle. 

What Are the Variations of Heart Arrhythmia?

Arrhythmias are categorized and named based on their rate, origin, and regularity. The two main categories are tachycardia (fast beating) and bradycardia (slow beating), and both of these have subcategories within them.

1. Tachycardia is a fast heartbeat, and the two most common types are:

♦ Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT): SVT is identified by a burst of rapid heartbeats that can be chronic or begin suddenly. There are two types of SVT known as atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter. Atrial fibrillation is when the heart beats very fast (240 to 345 beats per minute) and the atria are unable to contract completely. Atrial flutter is rhythmic and constant, but it can go in bursts and be life-threatening. Atrial flutter is common in people with heart disease

Ventricular tachycardia (VT): VT is an arrhythmia that starts in the ventricles and happens in people with heart disease or other heart issues. VT can increase your risk for ventricular fibrillation, which is marked by chaotic heartbeats in the ventricle. This causes your heart rate to drop, your blood pressure falls, and blood supply to your organs is reduced. Ventricular fibrillation is the number one cause of cardiac arrest.

2. Bradycardia is a slow heartbeat, but not all slow heartbeats are a cause for alarm. Many athletes have slower resting heart rates than inactive people. The main types of bradycardia are:

Sick sinus: When the sinus node that is responsible for setting your heart pace is not sending electrical impulses correctly, your heart can beat too slowly. 

Conduction block: when the electrical pathways in the heart are blocked, the heart chambers may contract slowly. There may be no sign of these blocks other than an occasional skipped heartbeat. 

Heart Arrhythmia and Children

Many heart arrhythmias in children are harmless and do not require treatment. In many cases, there is an underlying cause that can be treated, and the arrhythmia will be corrected on its own. 

Some pediatric arrhythmias, however, can be life-threatening, so it is important to seek medical care if one is suspected. The most common causes of arrhythmia in children are chemical imbalances, infections, and medications. 

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

It is important to get medical attention if you notice arrhythmia symptoms. While many are harmless, it is possible that it is indicative of a serious problem. Some arrhythmias can predispose you to a stroke or heart attack

With treatment, arrhythmias can be managed and corrected, allowing you to live a healthy life. When left untreated, you increase your risk for stroke and heart failure.  

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