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Causes and Treatments of Irregular Heartbeat

Causes and Treatments of Irregular Heartbeat

A cardiac arrhythmia is an unusual or irregular heartbeat. When you have an arrhythmia, your heart may beat faster or slower than others without an arrhythmia. Several different conditions may cause your heart to beat abnormally, and treatment depends on the cause.

Heart rhythm issues, or cardiac arrhythmias, occur when the electrical signals that coordinate the heartbeat do not work correctly. This malfunctioning message causes the heart to beat too fast (tachycardia), too slow, or abnormally.

An irregular heartbeat may feel like a pounding or racing heart and may be harmless. However, some abnormal heart beatings can cause bothersome, sometimes even life-threatening, signs and symptoms.

Sometimes, however, it is normal for an individual to have a slow or fast heart rate. For example, the heart rate may decrease during sleep or increase while exercising.

Treatment of irregular heartbeat or cardiac arrhythmia may include medications, catheter procedures, implanted devices, or surgery to control or eliminate slow, fast, or irregular heartbeats.

A heart-healthy lifestyle may help prevent heart damage that may trigger certain cardiac arrhythmias.

Most individuals with an irregular heartbeat can lead a normal life if it is properly diagnosed.

It is advisable to tell your physician whenever you feel your heart racing, if you feel dizzy, drowsy, or lightheaded, or if you have chest pain.

Types Of Arrhythmia Or Irregular Heartbeat

Generally, we put the cardiac arrhythmias together depending on heart rate velocity. For example, tachycardia is a fast heart beating; the resting heart rate is over one hundred beats per minute. On the other hand, bradycardia is a slow heart beating; the resting heart rate is under sixty beats per minute.

Tachycardia, Fast Heartbeat

The types of tachycardias include:


Chaotic cardiac signaling causes a rapid, uncoordinated heart rate. The condition may be temporary, but some episodes of atrial fibrillation may not stop unless treated. In addition, experts associate atrial fibrillation with serious complications, such as stroke.


It is similar to atrial fibrillation, but the heartbeat is more organized. Atrial flutter is also related to stroke.


It is a broad term that includes arrhythmias that begin in the atria, the heart’s upper chambers. Supra means above; ventricular refers to the heart’s lower chambers or ventricles. Supraventricular tachycardia causes episodes of pounding heartbeats (palpitations) that begin and end abruptly.


This kind of arrhythmia happens when rapid, chaotic electrical signals cause the lower chambers of the heart, the ventricles, to quiver instead of making contact in a coordinated manner to pump blood to the rest of the body.

This severe condition may lead to death if not achieving to restore regular heart beating within minutes. Most individuals who have ventricular fibrillation have underlying heart disease or have suffered severe trauma.


This rapid, regular heart rate begins with faulty electrical signals in the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). As a result, the fast heart rate does not allow the ventricles to fill correctly with blood. Consequently, the heart has difficulty pumping sufficient blood to the body.

Ventricular tachycardia may not cause severe problems in individuals with a healthy heart. However, in those with heart disease, ventricular tachycardia may be a medical emergency that requires immediate medical treatment.

Bradycardia, Slow Heartbeat

Although a heart rate under sixty beats per minute at rest is considered bradycardia, a low resting heart rate does not always indicate an issue. If you are physically fit, your heart may still be able to pump enough blood to your body with under sixty beats per minute at rest.

When you have a slow heart rate and your heart is not pumping enough blood, you may have a type of bradycardia. Kinds of bradycardia include:


The sinus node is responsible for pacing the heart. If it is not working correctly, the heart rate may alternate between too slow (bradycardia) and too fast (tachycardia). Scarring near the sinus node may cause sick sinus syndrome by slowing, interrupting, or blocking the travel of impulses.

Sick sinus syndrome is more typical among older adults.


A blockage of the heart’s electrical pathways may cause the signals that trigger the heartbeat to slow or cease. Some blockages may cause no signs or symptoms, and others may cause skipped beats or bradycardia.

Premature Heartbeats

Premature heartbeats are extra beats that happen one at a time, sometimes in patterns that alternate with the regular heartbeat. The other beatings may come from the upper chamber of the heart (premature atrial contractions) or the lower chamber (premature ventricular contractions).

A premature heartbeat can feel like your heart skips a beat. These extra beats are usually not problematic and rarely mean you have a more severe condition. Still, a premature heartbeat may trigger a longer-lasting arrhythmia, especially in individuals with heart disease.

Occasionally, frequent premature beats that last several years may lead to a weak heart. Premature heartbeats may happen when resting. Sometimes strenuous exercise, stress, or stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine may cause premature heartbeats.

Symptoms Of Arrhythmia Or Irregular Heartbeat

Heart arrhythmias may not cause any symptoms or signs. However, a physician may notice an irregular heartbeat when examining you for another health reason.

In general, symptoms and signs of arrhythmias may include the following:

  • Tachycardia, a rapid heartbeat
  • Bradycardia, a slow heartbeat
  • A fluttering in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

Other symptoms may include:

  • Exhaustion
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion, lightheadedness, or dizziness
  • Syncope (fainting) or near fainting
  • Sweating

When To Visit Your Doctor

If you notice your heart beating too slow or too fast or skipping a beat, make an appointment to see your doctor. Seek medical help immediately if you have shortness of breath, dizziness, weakness, lightheadedness, syncope or near fainting, and chest pain or discomfort.

Ventricular fibrillation, a type of arrhythmia, may cause a dramatic drop in blood pressure. Collapse may happen within seconds, and the individual’s breathing and pulse will soon stop. If this situation occurs, follow these steps:

  • Call 911 or the emergency number in the area
  • If nearby there is no trained person in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), administer hands-only CPR. Press hard and quickly on the center of the chest at a pace of a hundred to hundred and twenty compressions per minute until paramedics arrive. You do not need to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
  • If you or someone close to you knows CPR, initiate CPR. CPR may help keep blood flowing to the organs until a paramedic or doctor can give an electric shock (defibrillation).
  • If an automatic external defibrillator (AED) is in the area, have someone find the device and follow the instructions. An AED is a portable defibrillation device that can deliver a shock that may restart the heartbeat. You do not require training to operate an AED. The AED will tell you what to do. It is programmed to deliver a shock only when appropriate.

Causes Of Irregular Heartbeat

It is helpful to know how the heart works to understand the causes of cardiac arrhythmias.

Four chambers comprise the heart: two upper (atria) and two lower (ventricles).

The sinus node, a natural pacemaker in the upper right chamber (atrium), typically controls the heart’s rhythm. The sinus node sends electrical signals that generally start each heartbeat. These electrical signals move through the atria, causing the heart muscles to contract and pump blood to the ventricles.

The signaling then arrives at a group of cells (AV node), slowing down. The short delay enables the ventricles to refill with blood; when the electrical signaling reaches the ventricles, the chambers constrict and transfer blood to the lungs and the rest of the body.

What can cause an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) includes:

  • Clogged arteries in the heart (coronary artery disease)
  • Healing from a previous heart attack or current heart attack
  • Changes in the structure of the heart, such as from cardiomyopathy
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
  • Underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
  • Sleep apnea
  • Certain medicines, including over-the-counter cold and allergy medication
  • Drinking too much caffeine or alcohol genetics
  • Smoking
  • Drug abuse
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Abnormal heart valves
  • Heart failure
  • Any heart damage
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Electrolyte imbalance: Electrolytes, such as potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium, help trigger and send electrical impulses to the heart. An imbalance in electrolytes, for example, if they are too low or too high, can interfere with the heart’s signaling causing irregular heartbeats.

Probable Complications

Complications depend on the type of arrhythmia. In general, complications of cardiac arrhythmias may include stroke, sudden death, and heart failure.

Physicians associate cardiac arrhythmias with an increased risk of blood clots. If a clot breaks loose, it may travel from the heart to the brain and cause a stroke. Anticoagulants may reduce the risk of stroke related to atrial fibrillation and other arrhythmias. Your physician will determine if an anticoagulant medication is correct for you.

If an arrhythmia is causing symptoms of heart failure, methods to control heart rate may improve heart function.

Treatment For Arrhythmias

Treatment will depend on whether it is a fast or slow arrhythmia or heart block.

Treatments utilized for arrhythmias include the following:

  • Medication: stops, prevents, or controls the pace of an arrhythmia.
  • Electrical cardioversion: utilizes electricity to return the heart to a regular pace while you are under anesthesia or sedated.
  • Catheter ablation: carefully destroys the diseased tissue in your heart that is causing the arrhythmia. (under local or general anesthesia)
  • Pacemaker: battery-operated device implanted in your chest under local anesthesia; produces electrical signals as a natural pacemaker in your heart to help beat at a regular pace.
  • Implantable defibrillator: is used to monitor the heart rhythm and shock the heart back into a regular rhythm when needed.


Lifestyle modifications to lower the chances of heart disease may help prevent cardiac arrhythmias. A heart-healthy lifestyle includes:

  • Heart-healthy eating
  • Keeping physically active
  • Not smoking
  • Keeping a healthy weight
  • Limiting caffeine and alcohol
  • Reducing stress since intense stress may cause heartbeat irregularities
  • Use medications as directed, and tell your physician about all the medications you take.

If your job involves working at heights or with machinery that could be dangerous, you should stop working at least until your doctor diagnoses your irregular heartbeat or you receive treatment for your existing condition. Get advice from your primary healthcare provider or cardiologist.

We are Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, a diagnostic and preventative medicine cardiology practice. For more information, contact us.

Every heart has a story… What’s yours?

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Modern Heart and Vascular, a preventive cardiology medical practice, has several offices around Houston. We have locations in Humble, Cleveland, The Woodlands, Katy, and Livingston.

We are Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, a diagnostic and preventative medicine cardiology practice.

Every heart has a story… What’s yours?

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At the Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, we offer state-of-the-art cardiovascular care with innovative diagnostic tools and compassionate patient care. Our priority at Modern Heart and Vascular Institute is prevention. We help patients lead healthier lives by avoiding unnecessary procedures and surgeries.

Contact us online to learn more and book an appointment. If you’d like to learn more about our practice, read our providers’ bios.

This article does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need cardiovascular care, please call us at 832-644-8930.

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