Arrhythmia is a disruption in the heart’s normal beating rhythm.
What causes arrhythmia?
The heart relies on an electrical impulse from the sinoatrial node to beat properly. Normally, the electrical impulse begins in the heart’s right atrium and spreads throughout the atria to the atrioventricular (AV) node, which acts as the heart’s “natural pacemaker.” From there, the impulses travel to the left and right ventricles of the heart. This exact route is followed when the heart beats normally (about 60 to 100 times a minute in an adult).
An arrhythmia occurs when any change disrupts this normal sequence of electrical impulses. The sequence can happen too quickly, too slowly or erratically. A fast rate (more than 100 beats per minute) is called tachycardia, while a slow rate (less than 60 beats per minute) is called bradycardia.
An arrhythmia can be triggered by a number of things, including:
- Drug use
- Problems with any of the nerve impulses or hormones that influence the heartbeat
- Other heart conditions (coronary artery disease, heart valve disease, heart failure)
What are the symptoms of arrhythmia?
Symptoms of arrhythmia include:
- Fast (may feel rapid pounding in chest) or slow heartbeat or skipping a beat (fluttering sensation)
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
How is arrhythmia diagnosed?
During a physical exam, your doctor will listen to your heart with a stethoscope, evaluating the rate and rhythm of your heartbeat and checking for a heart murmur. Other tests that may be used to diagnose arrhythmia include:
- Blood tests
- Chest X-ray
- Coronary angiography
- Electrocardiogram (EKG)
- Electrophysiology study (EPS)
- Halter monitor or an event monitor
- Implantable loop recorder
- Stress testing
- Tilt table testing
How is arrhythmia treated?
Treatment options will vary depending on the kind of arrhythmia that you have and whether another health condition is causing the arrhythmia. Some mild arrhythmias require no treatment, while others require medication or more aggressive treatments, such as:
- An artificial pacemaker
- An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) device
- Cardiac defibrillation
- Catheter ablation
- Surgery for underlying conditions causing arrhythmia