Millions of Americans have some type of arrhythmia, also known as a heart rhythm problem. Several factors might cause your heart to beat too fast, too slow or at an irregular rate. Sometimes these conditions are harmless. In other cases, arrhythmia might be a sign of a life-threatening condition. Below, learn more about the definition of arrhythmia, its symptoms, causes and treatment options.
What Is Arrhythmia?
Your body has a natural pacemaker, the sinus node, which emits electrical impulses that start every heartbeat. When the process works normally, these impulses cause the heart to pump blood to the rest of your body at a regular rate.
A heart arrhythmia occurs when these impulses don't work properly, causing an irregular or erratic heartbeat. Doctors classify arrhythmias based on their location in the heart — either the atria or ventricles — as well as their speed. Tachycardia is a fast heartbeat and bradycardia signifies a slow heartbeat. Common arrhythmias include:
- Atrial fibrillation
- Atrial flutter
- Ventricular fibrillation
- Premature ventricular contractions
- Long QT syndrome
While some arrhythmias are benign and barely noticeable, others can be serious conditions or signs of an immediate medical emergency. Left untreated, arrhythmias might lead to other complications, including heart attack, heart failure, stroke and cognitive problems.
Symptoms of Heart Arrhythmia
Heart arrhythmia symptoms vary depending on the root cause and the patient themselves. Some forms of the condition have no symptoms at all, which means your health care provider might notice signs during a checkup before you do. Typical side effects include:
- Racing heartbeat
- Uncharacteristically slow heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue or weakness
- Chest pain or tightness
If you experience these or other symptoms suddenly and without explanation, seek emergency medical care. Heart rhythm problems like ventricular fibrillation can be deadly without immediate treatment.
Causes of Arrhythmia
Several factors can lead to both tachycardia and bradycardia arrhythmias. While even healthy hearts can develop arrhythmia, people with heart disease are more susceptible to irregular heartbeat problems. Those with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and other medical conditions are at an increased risk for heart rhythm issues due to the excess strain on their cardiovascular system.
Other arrhythmia risk factors also include:
- Drug and alcohol use
- Diet and exercise
Treating Heart Arrhythmia
Doctors and health care professionals use a series of tests to diagnose heart arrhythmias. These diagnostics include electrocardiograms (EKGs), echocardiograms and other heart-monitoring tools that determine the signs and causes of your irregular heartbeat.
Following a diagnosis, several treatment strategies are available based on the type of arrhythmia you have. If action is needed, common treatments include minor procedures, medication and surgery. Implantable devices like pacemakers can regulate your heartbeat and prevent serious issues from developing.
Heart Arrhythmia Prevention
While any heart can develop an arrhythmia, you can stay on top of your heart health with routine visits to your doctor or health care provider. Scheduling regular checkups, exercising, eating a heart-healthy diet and keeping your cholesterol and blood pressure under control will decrease the risks associated with heart arrhythmias. Limiting your alcohol and caffeine intake and properly managing stress plays a role in staying heart-healthy as well.
To learn more, contact our team at Modern Heart and Vascular to schedule an appointment today.
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.