An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm.
Some arrhythmias can cause problems with contractions of your heart chambers by:
An arrhythmia can occur in the sinus node, the atria, or the atrioventricular node. These are supraventricular arrhythmias. A ventricular arrhythmia is caused by an abnormal electrical focus within your ventricles. This results in abnormal conduction of electrical signals within your ventricles. Arrhythmias can also be classified as slow (bradyarrhythmia) or fast (tachyarrhythmia). "Brady-" means slow, while "tachy-" means fast.
In any of these situations, your body's vital organs may not get enough blood to meet their needs.
An arrhythmia occurs when there is a problem with the electrical system that is supposed to regulate a steady heartbeat. With an impaired electrical system, your heart may beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly.
Many risk factors can affect the electrical system of your heart and, therefore, cause an arrhythmia. Substances including caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, diet drugs, some herbs, and even prescription medicines can trigger an arrhythmia. Health conditions including coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes contribute to developing arrhythmias. Arrhythmias become more common with age.
The effects on the body are often the same, however, whether the heartbeat is too fast, too slow, or too irregular. Some symptoms of arrhythmias include:
The symptoms of arrhythmias may look like other conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
There are several tests that may be used to diagnose arrhythmias. Some of these include:
There are several variations of the ECG test:
Some arrhythmias may cause few, if any, problems. In this case, you may not need treatment. When the arrhythmia causes symptoms, you have several different choices for treatment. Your healthcare provider will choose a treatment based on the type of arrhythmia you have, how severe your symptoms are, and whether you have other conditions such as diabetes, kidney failure, or heart failure. These can affect the course of the treatment.
Some treatments for arrhythmias include:
Some arrhythmias have no complications. However, arrhythmias that are more serious can result in heart failure, stroke, or even cardiac arrest.
Living with an arrhythmia includes making lifestyle changes (avoiding caffeine, alcohol, or other triggers) and taking medicines as directed. It may also include having a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator inserted. If you have a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator, make sure that you ask your healthcare providers about any restrictions or lifestyle changes you may need to make. Working with your provider can promote your health and well-being.
Tell your healthcare provider if:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Stroke is a leading cause of death and a
leading cause of serious, long-term disability, according to the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Stroke Association (ASA). The ASA reports that strokes are the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. Find out more about stroke by taking this quiz, based on information from the AHA and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).