An arrythmia is any condition in the which the heart beats in an abnormal or irregular way. There are many types of arrhythmias, including tachycardia (when the heart beats too fast), bradycardia (when the heart beats too slow), and heart palpitations (feeling that the heart is fluttering, pounding, or skipping a beat).
The most common type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation (AF), which causes an irregular and fast heartbeat. This is a serious condition that can lead to heart attack or stroke. Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, palpitations, fatigue, and confusion. AF is caused by a problem with the heart’s electrical system. It is usually treated with medicines like blood thinners to lower the risk of a blood clot that may lead to heart attack or stroke and/or procedures that address the electrical cause of the AF.
Some of the ways doctors test for arrhythmias are with an electrocardiogram (EKG) to assess the electrical function of the heart or a Holter monitor (essentially an EKG that gives a longer-term assessment of electrical function). They might also order a treadmill/exercise stress test, which can assess for arrhythmia during exercise, and/or an echocardiogram, which is a specialized ultrasound that looks at the heart’s structure and function.
There are a wide variety of risk factors for arrhythmia: underlying heart or lung disease, congenital (birth) heart defects, age, high blood pressure and/or cholesterol, obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and lack of exercise all increase the risk. AF risks include those listed above along with past heart attack, history of heart surgery, sleep apnea, diabetes, and family history.
Arrhythmia is generally treated initially with medication. When medication fails to alleviate the arrhythmia, procedures like catheter ablation (when the heart is deliberately scarred to block abnormal electrical signals), cardioversion (electrical shock delivered to the heart in an attempt to resume normal electrical activity), placement of a pacemaker (a device that keeps the heart beat regular and at the correct speed) and/or placement of a defibrillator (a device that delivers electrical shock as needed to resume normal rhythm) can be used in an attempt to bring the heart’s rhythm back to normal.
The information presented here is for educational purposes only. Medical advice is neither offered nor implied. Please consult a healthcare professional for medical advice.