Arrhythmia develops when the electrical impulses coordinating the heart pulses don't function well. As a result, your heart beats too quickly, too slow, or unevenly. Almost everyone experiences a minor arrhythmia at least once in a lifetime.
Heart arrhythmia can cause a fluttering or racing sensation in the chest that is usually harmless. On the other hand, some arrhythmias can create uncomfortable and even fatal signs and symptoms if not treated. If arrhythmia alters the normal blood circulation in the body, it might cause damages to the lungs, brain, and other essential organs.
Normal Heart Rhythm
The number of times a person’s heart beats per minute (bpm) while resting enables the doctors to determine a healthy heart rhythm. It’s referred to as a resting heart rate. A healthy resting heart rate can vary from one person to another. However, some studies recommend that it is between 60 to 100 beats per minute.
A person's resting heart rate decreases as they get fit. But since their hearts are so efficient, athletes, for instance, normally experience a resting heart rate that is below 60 beats per minute. A normal heart usually beats in a regular rhythm, with double "ba-bum" beats separated by even intervals.
The heart contracts to supply oxygen to the already circulated blood while pushing the oxygenated blood across the body in the other beat. A person's pulse can thus help determine their heart rate. They can feel the heart pulse through their skin at this moment.
The following are the best places on the body to do this:
- The wrists
- The inside of the elbows
- The foot top
- The neck side
Types of Arrhythmias
The doctor can clarify arrhythmia depending on the rate, origin, and regularity. They include;
- Atrial fibrillation
This is a condition in which the atrial chambers beat irregularly and often involves tachycardia. Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is a prevalent situation that affects mostly people aged above 65. The chamber tends to fibrillates or quivers rather than creating a single, forceful contraction, resulting in a fast heartbeat.
- Atrial flutter
Fibrillation creates several random and varied quivers within the atrium. On the other hand, atrial flutter comes from one part of the atrium that is not functioning properly. This results in a predictable pattern of aberrant cardiac conduction.
Both flutter and fibrillation can occur in some persons. Atrial flutter is generally a dangerous disorder that, if left untreated, can cause fibrillation.
- Supraventricular tachycardia
A fast yet rhythmically normal heart rhythm is referred to as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). A person can have a burst of rapid heartbeats that could last from a few seconds to several hours. Medical providers usually categorize atrial fibrillation and flutter as SVTs.
- Ventricular tachycardia
This disorder is caused by aberrant electrical impulses that originate in the ventricles and generate a rapid heartbeat. If the heart has a scar following an initial heart attack, this is likely to occur.
- Ventricular fibrillation
This is an abnormal cardiac rhythm characterized by fast, uncoordinated, and fluttering ventricular contractions. Instead of pumping blood, the ventricles usually quiver in this condition. Ventricular fibrillation is generally a fatal condition that is frequently associated with cardiac disease. A heart attack normally triggers it.
- Long QT syndrome
This is a heart rhythm condition that produces fast, disorganized heartbeats in some people. This could lead to fainting, which is potentially fatal. It can also happen as a result of genetic predisposition or the use of certain drugs.
Signs and Symptoms of Arrhythmia
Arrhythmia can occur without causing any signs or symptoms. During a regular examination, the doctor may discover that you have an arrhythmia. However, having evident signs and symptoms does not always imply that you have a severe issue.
The evident arrhythmia symptoms can include;
- A flutter in your chest
- A pounding heart (tachycardia)
- A sluggish heartbeat (bradycardia)
- Pain in the chest
- Shortness of breath
Other symptoms that might be associated with arrhythmia are;
- Dizziness or lightheadedness feeling
- Fainting or near fainting
Causes of arrhythmia
Arrhythmia can occur when electrical impulses stimulating the contractions of the heart are disrupted. The heart can malfunction due to a variety of reasons such as;
- A substance abuse problem
- Abuse of alcohol
- Certain prescription drugs
- Elevated blood pressure
- Excessive coffee consumption
- Heart disorder (congestive heart failure)
- Heart scarring, usually as a result of a heart attack
- Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland)
- Modifications in the heart structure
- Some herbal and dietary supplements
Unless there is an external trigger, like substance abuse or an electric shock, an individual with good cardiac health will rarely have a long-term arrhythmia. Electrical impulses may not move via the heart properly if there is underlying heart disease. Hence, arrhythmia is more likely to occur as a result of this.
During arrhythmia diagnosis, the doctor will examine you and analyze your symptoms as well as your medical history. They can also inquire or perform a test on the diseases that could cause arrhythmia. They include heart disease or a thyroid gland problem.
If necessary, you may be subjected to arrhythmia-specific heart-monitoring tests such as;
Electrocardiogram (ECG): This test involves attaching sensors or electrodes that detect your heart's electrical activity on your chest or sometimes the limbs. It measures and records the timing and duration of every electrical phase in the heart pulse.
Holter monitor: This is a small, portable device that doctors use to records the heart's pulse for one or two days.
Event recorders: When the doctor suspects an irregularity in your heartbeat, he or she can recommend an event recorder device to records it.
Implantable loop recorder: The doctor can sometimes implant a loop recorder beneath your skin to continually monitor your heart rhythm and record occasional arrhythmias.
Echocardiogram: During this noninvasive approach, the doctor places a handheld device or the transducer on the chest. It uses sound waves to generate pictures of the structure, size, and motion of the heart.
If the physician fails to identify an arrhythmia during these tests, they may use other tests to provoke it. They include;
- Stress test
- Tilt table test
- Sleep study
- Electrophysiological testing
Arrhythmia Treatment Options
Arrhythmia treatment may or may not be required in patients with the disorder. It's usually only necessary if the arrhythmia generates severe symptoms or puts you in danger of more severe arrhythmia or complications.
The doctor may prescribe medicine to help manage arrhythmia and avoid serious complications such as a heart attack. The majority of the drugs are in the form of a pill. However, others are available in an intravenous form for emergency usage.
The medication your doctor recommends is determined by the type of arrhythmia you have and any other illnesses. The following are examples of common types of drugs;
- Calcium channel blockers
- Antiarrhythmic medication
Surgery and other procedures:
The doctor may recommend a minor surgery or procedure if medicine or other therapies fail to correct arrhythmia. Arrhythmia can be treated using a variety of implanted devices and methods such as;
- A pacemaker
The physician can place a pacemaker through minor surgery. They will then guide tiny wires via the veins and into your heart after creating a small incision around the shoulder. The wires are connected to a battery-powered generator that is inserted near the collarbone. If the generator identifies an aberrant cardiac rhythm, it regulates it by sending an electrical pulse through the wire.
- Catheter ablation
This involves inserting flexible tubes (catheters) into the blood vessels to address the target part of the heart. To create a minute scar, an electrode at the tip of one of the tubes emits radiofrequency waves, heat, or extremely cold temperatures. Electrical waves that trigger arrhythmias are blocked by scar tissue.
- An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)
This is a pacemaker-like device that the doctor implants near the breastbone, collarbone, or ribs. If the arrhythmia you have is life-threatening or putting you in danger of cardiac arrest, this approach could help. An ICD can shock your heart with electric shocks to correct its beat or restart it if it ceases beating.
- Maze procedure
During this procedure, the surgeon creates a series of incisions in the heart. The resulting scars eventually mend into blocks that channel electrical impulses, allowing the heart to beat more efficiently.
- Coronary bypass surgery
The doctor grafts the veins or arteries from other parts of the body onto the coronary arteries during coronary bypass surgery. This allows the circulation to bypass any narrowed areas and boost blood flow to the heart muscle.
Arrhythmia refers to an abnormal or irregular heart rhythm. The pulse usually signifies the heart rate and the number of times the heart beats per minute. These pulse rates tend to vary from one person to another.
Treatment of arrhythmia can typically reduce or eliminate rapid, slow, or irregular heartbeats. Arrhythmia frequently exacerbates or even occurs due to a weak or injured heart. Thus, you can lower arrhythmia risk by leading a heart-healthy lifestyle.