Heart Arrhythmia: All You Need to Know

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Update Date 09/05/2020 . 4 mins read
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What is Heart Arrhythmia?

Heart arrhythmia is defined as an erratic or irregular heartbeat, with your heart either beating too fast or too slow. It can be described as a feeling that the heart is beating fast, beating hard, or seems to skip a beat.

Though in some cases, arrhythmia can follow a “regular” interval, as in the case of supraventricular tachycardia.

If you’ve ever experienced a sudden increase or decrease in your heart rate, you might have heart arrhythmia.

What is Heart Arrhythmia?

Arrhythmia is any rhythm that is not normal sinus rhythm (60-100 beats per second).

Arrhythmias are usually caused by scarring in the heart tissues or abnormal changes in electrical impulses that control your heart. More often than not, these changes are due to an already existing disease, injury, or it can simply be the result of genetics. 

It’s important to understand heart arrhythmia and its symptoms, causes, and risks, so that you may be guided accordingly on how to prevent it. 

Types of Heart Arrhythmia

There are two main types of arrhythmias:

  • Tachycardia. If you feel as though your heart is beating fast, has skipped a beat or is “fluttering,” then you most likely have tachycardia. 
  • Bradycardia. This happens when your heart is beating at an unusually slow pace. You usually feel the consequences of this type of arrhythmia, like dizziness and light-headedness.

There are also some arrhythmias that are considered “silent,” where the patient does not experience any of the  typical symptoms. 

In most heart arrhythmia cases, patients only find out that they have this cardiac disorder when they are diagnosed by doctors.

While you are encouraged to do your own research to find out more about ‘what is heart arrhythmia, its causes, and symptoms, it is important to consult a medical professional when it comes to diagnosis and treatment of the condition. 

Diagnosis

How is Heart Arrhythmia Diagnosed?

Aside from reviewing your symptoms and medical history, doctors may run several tests to confirm diagnosis.

To ensure that you do have cardiac arrhythmia and not merely physiologic heart palpitations, your doctor will conduct different tests to determine your exact condition.

Some of these tests include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). During an ECG test, electrodes are attached to your chest. This will measure the pace of your heartbeat, and will determine whether it is beating in a regular rhythm. An ECG is commonly used to detect cardiac arrhythmias.
  • Holter monitor. It is basically a portable ECG that you carry around. You will be asked to wear this monitor for at least 24 hours, while going about your daily activities. The purpose of using this test is to record your heart’s electrical activity throughout the day. This can help determine the triggers, which can be specific activities or even a particular  time of the day.
  • Implantable loop recorder. For sporadic arrhythmias, doctors often recommend implanting a patient-activated event recorder. This is placed under the skin of the patient, so that it can increase the accuracy of data recorded. The recorder also transmits your activities to the doctor directly; that way, he/she can track and pinpoint the causes of the arrhythmia episodes or fainting spells.
  • Echocardiogram.  The echocardiogram test is non-invasive and utilizes a hand-held device that allows the technician to capture the size, shape, and performance of your heart.
  • Sleep tests. Some cardiac arrhythmias are caused by sleep apnea, a condition when you stop breathing in your sleep. You will be asked to sleep either at a sleep center where they can observe you or at home with a portable device.

In some cases, your arrhythmia may not surface during these tests. Your doctor might then try to trigger your arrhythmia using the following methods:

  • Stress test or exercise stress test. A means for doctors to gauge if you have heart arrhythmia would be to make your heart work harder and beat faster. This can be done by either asking you to get on a treadmill or stationary bicycle, while your heart activity is monitored. If you have other medical complications such as coronary artery disease, you may be given medicine that simulates an exercise.
  • Tilt table test. This specific test is recommended by doctors for patients who experience syncopes or fainting spells. During a tilt table test, they will ask you to lie down on a flat table where you will be then placed in an upright position. Your doctor will then monitor your heart rate, ECG reading, and blood pressure to see whether there are any fluctuations.
  • Electrophysiological testing and mapping (EPS). This test tracks the electrical activity of your heart. Using wires, this test can help identify the location of the arrhythmia, and trace possible causes and triggers. EPS is also used by doctors if you have an underlying heart condition that might lead to the development of an arrhythmia. This study will allow your doctors to determine which treatment would be best to treat your heart problem.

Treatment 

How is Heart Arrhythmia Treated?

Depending on your type of arrhythmia, there are different treatments that your doctor may recommend to address your heart problem. For the majority of arrhythmia cases, surgery is only required if your condition is life-threatening. But surgery, in the case of arrhythmia typically involves placement of permanent pacemakers. 

For non-responsive or severe cases, trained specialists may recommend pacemakers, implantable defibrillators and biventricular devices. And the treatment will usually include anti-arrhythmic drug therapy. 

However, keep in mind that there are some lifestyle changes you can incorporate to prevent your condition from worsening. 

These are some of the more commonly known treatment options for heart arrhythmia.

  • Change to a healthy lifestyle
  • Anti-arrhythmic drug therapy
  • Pacemaker
  • Implantable defibrillators
  • Cardioversion
  • Catheter ablation
  • Cardiac catheterization

Key Takeaways

What is heart arrhythmia? Simply put, heart arrhythmia is a condition wherein the heart beats abnormally.

Most arrhythmia cases aren’t life-threatening, even if you may experience some worrying symptoms.

However, to prevent your ailment from worsening, it would be best to see a doctor.

Most patients who are diagnosed with heart arrhythmia are able to recover from it, especially once they undergo treatment.

Also, once your arrhythmia is under control, you may be advised to adopt certain lifestyle changes to become healthier.

Most doctors will recommend that you improve your diet, increase physical activity, avoid smoking, and manage your stress levels. 

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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