What Is Arrhythmia?
Arrhythmia is an abnormal rhythm of the heart (i.e. changes to the normal sequence of electrical impulses within the heart). It can happen in both adults and children. It isn’t necessarily a matter of speed. It can also occur when the heart skips a beat or adds a beat. This is sometimes referred to as “fluttering”, “palpitations” or “flip-flops”. You may not even notice it (which is called “silent” arrhythmia). Sometimes, these changes in the way your heart beats can be harmless and they can happen even to a healthy heart, but sometimes they can be serious as they can interfere with the body’s ability to pump blood. So, whenever you notice changes like this, you should seek medical help.
There are many types of arrhythmia. Some symptoms (other than those mentioned above) include pounding in the chest, dizziness or light-headedness, fainting, chest pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath and weakness or feeling tired. A regular doctor’s exam can sometimes detect irregular heartbeats. It can also be detected through the pulse or an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), echocardiograms, head-up tilt table tests, electrophysiology studies, event monitors and stress tests.
What Causes Arrhythmia?
Some arrhythmias can be normal, but they can also be an indication of:
- An imbalance of electrolytes like sodium or potassium in the blood
- Changes in the heart muscle
- Heart disease
- The damage caused by a heart attack (which you may not even know you had)
- The healing process after heart surgery.
The different types of arrhythmia generally have their own possible cause. For example, extra early beats that start in the heart’s upper chambers (i.e. premature atrial contractions) can be harmless. Skipped heartbeats (i.e. premature ventricular contractions) can be caused by having too much caffeine, nicotine or stress. Arrhythmias can also be brought on by cold and cough medications, psychotropic drugs, appetite suppressants, beta-blockers for high blood pressure or illegal drugs like cocaine, marijuana and “speed” or methamphetamines. Even the antiarrhythmics (medications used to treat arrhythmia) can cause arrhythmia.
But arrhythmias can also be caused by electrolyte imbalances or heart disease, so if you notice them happening a lot, you should have them checked out by a doctor. Some types of arrhythmia like Long Q-T Syndrome are hereditary.
Some types of fast heart beats (i.e. AV nodal reentrant tachycardia) can even cause heart failure. When the heart's lower chambers quiver and can't contract or pump blood to the body (i.e. ventricular fibrillation), CPR and defibrillation may be urgently required. Slow heart rhythms (i.e. bradyarrhythmias) can occur because of heart disease.
Disclaimer: The statements made on this page have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are not intended to diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. If a condition persists, please contact your physician or healthcare provider. The information provided is not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a healthcare provider, and should not be construed as medical advice.