Understanding Arrhythmia

An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm, or irregular heart beat. Our bodies use electrical impulses to keep the heart beating at a natural pace, generally 60-100 beats a minute at rest. A healthy heart will respond to physical activity or excitement by naturally increasing the heart rate.

Like a natural pacemaker, the steady beating of the heart results from the regular transmission of electrical impulses through the heart.

An arrhythmia occurs when the heart’s natural pacemaker develops an abnormal rate or rhythm, or when the normal electrical pathway is interrupted, or if other electrical impulses or signals bypasses the normal pacemaker pathway.

During an abnormal heart rhythm, either the rate, rhythm or pattern of the heartbeat changes. The heart can beat too fast, resulting in tachycardia; it can beat too slow, resulting in bradycardia; or the pattern can be irregular.

If left untreated, an arrhythmia may cause syncope (passing out), stroke, heart failure or sudden death from cardiac arrest.

What causes arrhythmia to occur?

Some healthy people who have no other medical problems can develop an arrhythmia. Their hearts may lose some of its natural pacemaker ability. The heart’s natural pacemaker may accelerate (beat fast), or delay (too slow) or both. In other cases, arrhythmia may be triggered by:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Prior heart attacks
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Structural heart disease (valve problems, or congenital defects)
  • Prior open heart surgery
  • Thyroid disease
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Excessive alcohol or stimulant use
  • Serious illness or infection
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Dehydration
  • Drug abuse

For more information about arrhythmia or to request an appointment, call 314-996-3627.

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