An arrhythmia (also called dysrhythmia) is an irregular or abnormal heartbeat.
Arrhythmias can be caused by:
The atria (the heart’s upper chambers) and ventricles (the heart’s lower chambers) work together, alternately contracting and relaxing to pump blood through the heart. The electrical system of the heart is the power source that makes this possible.
Irregular heart rhythms can also occur in normal, healthy hearts. Arrhythmias can also be caused by certain substances or medications, such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, cocaine, inhaled aerosols, diet pills, and cough and cold remedies. Emotional states such as shock, fright or stress can also cause irregular or fast heart rhythms.
Arrhythmias that are recurrent or related to an underlying heart condition are more concerning and should always be evaluated by a doctor.
In some cases, treating the underlying condition will take care of the arrhythmia. If not, many medications and procedures are available to eliminate or control the abnormal heart rhythm.
Types of supraventricular arrhythmias include:
Your pulse indicates your heart rate or the number of times your heart beats in one minute. Pulse rates vary from person to person. Your pulse is slower when you are at rest and increases when you exercise since more oxygen-rich blood is needed by the body during exercise.
How do I take my pulse?
You can tell how fast your heart is beating by feeling your pulse. You can feel your pulse on your wrist or neck. Place the tips of your index and middle fingers on the inner wrist of your other arm, just below the base of your thumb.
Or, place the tips of your index and middle fingers on your lower neck, on either side of your windpipe. Press lightly with your fingers until you feel the blood pulsing beneath your fingers.
You may need to move your fingers around slightly up or down until you feel the pulsing.
You can count the number of beats in 10 seconds and multiply by 6 to determine your heart rate in beats per minute. A normal heart rate, at rest, is 50 to 100 beats per minute.
Your Heart Rate: Pulse in 10 seconds x 6 = ____
A ventricular arrhythmia begins in the heart’s ventricles.
Types of ventricular arrhythmias include:
A bradyarrhythmia is a slow heart rhythm that is usually caused by disease in the heart’s conduction system. Types of bradyarrhythmias include:
An arrhythmia may be “silent” and not cause any symptoms. A doctor can detect an irregular heartbeat during an examination by taking your pulse, listening to your heart or by performing diagnostic tests.
If symptoms occur, they may include:
If you have symptoms of an arrhythmia, you should make an appointment with a cardiologist. You may want to see an electrophysiologist — a cardiologist who has additional specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of heart rhythm disorders.
After evaluating your symptoms and performing a physical examination, the cardiologist may perform a variety of diagnostic tests to help confirm the presence of an arrhythmia and indicate its causes.
Some tests that may be done to confirm the presence of an irregular heart rhythm include:
Treatment depends on the type and severity of your arrhythmia. Sometimes, no treatment is needed. Treatments include medications, lifestyle changes, invasive therapies, electrical devices and surgery.
Antiarrhythmic drugs are medications used to convert the arrhythmia to a normal sinus rhythm or to prevent an arrhythmia. Other medications may include heart-rate-control drugs and “blood thinners”, which reduce your risk of stroke or developing blood clots.
It is important that you know the names of your medications, why they are prescribed, how often and at what times to take them, what side effects may occur, and what medications you have previously taken for your arrhythmia.
Arrhythmias may be related to certain lifestyle factors. The following tips can help reduce your risk:
Electrical cardioversion and catheter ablation are invasive therapies used to treat or eliminate irregular heart rhythms. Your doctor will determine the best treatment for you and discuss the benefits and risks of these therapies with you.
There are several ways an ICD can restore a normal heart rhythm:
Surgery may be needed to correct arrhythmias that can’t be controlled with medications or nonsurgical treatment methods. Arrhythmia surgery may also be recommended if you need surgery, such as valve or bypass surgery, to correct other forms of heart disease. The Maze and modified Maze procedures are two surgeries used to treat patients with atrial fibrillation.
Your doctor will determine the best treatment for you and discuss these options with you, including more information about surgical treatment if it is an appropriate treatment option.
You will need to visit your doctor for regular follow-up visits to:
Your doctor will tell you how often you should visit. Call your doctor in between visits if your symptoms become more frequent or severe.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.
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