What is Heart Arrhythmia?

Problems with irregular heartbeat or abnormal heart rhythm also known as arrhythmias begin where there is a defect in the flow of the electrical impulses to and from the heart which regulate the rhythm resulting in the heartbeat becoming either too fast or too slow. Heart Arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythm will give a sensation of the heart racing or fluttering and are usually harmless but they can be a cause of certain serious symptoms and hence it is always recommended to treat Heart Arrhythmias. Treatment is focused on completely eradicating or controlling the irregular heartbeat. The most important factor in controlling Heart Arrhythmias or Abnormal Heart Rhythm is following a healthy lifestyle.

Heart Arrhythmia

Causes of Heart Arrhythmia or What Causes Abnormal Heart Rhythm?

There are many things that can cause Heart Arrhythmias or Abnormal Heart Rhythm. Some of the causes are:

What are the Risk Factors for Heart Arrhythmia or Abnormal Heart Rhythm?

Certain risk factors for development of Heart Arrhythmias or Abnormal Heart Rhythm are:

  • Coronary Artery Disease: This is a disease in which there is narrowing of the arteries in the heart and is also major risk factor for Heart Arrhythmias or Abnormal Heart Rhythm.
  • Chronic hypertension is also one of the risk factors for Heart Arrhythmias as it increases the risk for coronary artery disease.
  • If an individual has a congenital heart defect then it puts that individual at risk for developing Heart Arrhythmias or Abnormal Heart Rhythm.
  • Thyroid problems also put an individual at risk for developing Heart Arrhythmias.
  • Certain classes of cough medicines can alter the heart rate of an individual.
  • A diabetic individual is also predisposed to developing Heart Arrhythmias or Abnormal Heart Rhythm.
  • If an individual is suffering from a sleep disorder like Obstructive Sleep Apnea then it also increases the risk for developing Heart Arrhythmias.
  • Alcohol and tobacco abuse makes an individual prone to Heart Arrhythmias or Abnormal Heart Rhythm.

What are the Symptoms of Heart Arrhythmia or Abnormal Heart Rhythm?

There are no specific symptoms which can be directly related to Heart Arrhythmia or Abnormal Heart Rhythm. In most of the cases the physician identifies this condition during a routine evaluation or checking an individual for some other condition. In some cases of Abnormal Heart Rhythm there may be some symptoms which includes:

  • Fluttering sensation in the chest
  • Tachycardia
  • Bradycardia
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Syncopal episodes.

How is Heart Arrhythmia or Abnormal Heart Rhythm Diagnosed?

In order to diagnose Heart Arrhythmia the physician will first conduct a history taking inquiring about the symptoms experienced by the patient. The physician will then conduct a physical examination with percussion and auscultation of the heart and lungs looking for any abnormal sounds or murmurs. If the physician suspects Heart Arrhythmia then the following tests will be ordered to look for the underlying cause of Heart Arrhythmia or Abnormal Heart Rhythm:

Electrocardiogram: This test shows the heartbeat in the form of electrical impulses. This test can show whether there is any abnormality in the rhythm of the heart and whether the heart is functioning normally.

Holter Monitor: A Holter monitor is a small portable device which is attached to the patient and the heart rhythms are monitored. This device may be put in for 24 or 72 hours. This is quite an effective way of diagnosing any abnormality in the rate and rhythm of the heart.

Treadmill Stress Test: This test is conducted to find out the exercise tolerance of the patient and how much distance the patient can cover on the treadmill before the patient starts having symptoms. This is quite helpful in confirming the diagnosis and formulating a treatment plan.

Event Recorder: This is a portable device which is attached to the heart and in case of any abnormality in the rate and rhythm of the heart that event will be recorded in the device. This way the physician can diagnose the condition and formulate a feasible treatment plan.

How is Heart Arrhythmia or Abnormal Heart Rhythm Treated?

Heart Arrhythmias itself does not require any treatment if it does not result in any symptoms. Treatment is only required in cases where the patient is in significant discomfort and if there is a chance of the patient developing complications due to it.

Treatment for Heart Arrhythmia or Abnormal Heart Rhythm Caused due to Bradycardia:

In cases where there is no identifiable cause for bradycardia, then the most preferred treatment is placement of a pacemaker in order to regulate the rhythm and rate of the heart.

Treatment for Heart Arrhythmia or Abnormal Heart Rhythm Caused due to Tachycardia:

Vagal Maneuvers for Treating Tachycardia Causing Heart Arrhythmia or Abnormal Heart Rhythm: The symptoms of supraventricular tachycardia can be controlled by maneuvers like washing the face in cold water, holding the breath for some time. These maneuvers affect the nervous system which controls the heartbeat resulting in the heart rate to come down significantly.

Medications for Treating Tachycardia Causing Heart Arrhythmia or Abnormal Heart Rhythm: For some cases of tachycardia certain medications may be prescribed which can help in regulating the heart rate. These medications are known as antiarrhythmic medications.

Cardioversion: This is a procedure which is used for conditions like atrial fibrillation which is also a form of arrhythmia. This procedure involves delivering shock waves to regulate the electrical impulses going to and from the heart.

Surgical Treatments for Heart Arrhythmia or Abnormal Heart Rhythm

Apart From the above mentioned conservative treatments for Heart Arrhythmias, there are certain surgical procedures that can be done in order to treat Heart Arrhythmia:

Implantable Devices: In some cases, where the exact etiology of arrhythmias are not known the physician recommend implantation of a pacemaker or an ICD device which help in controlling the rhythm of the heart. In case if these implantable are not enough for treating Heart Arrhythmias then the following surgical procedures can be done for treatment:

Maze Procedure for Heart Arrhythmia or Abnormal Heart Rhythm: In this procedure, the surgeon makes serial incisions in the region of the atrium in the form of a maze. These incisions results in the formation of scar tissue which block any abnormal electrical impulses going into the heart and thus controlling the rate and rhythm of the heart. This is quite an effective treatment but is reserved for those patients only who have failed other forms of conservative treatment.

Bypass Surgery: This procedure is performed for people with severe coronary artery disease. This surgery is done by making an incision in the chest and exploring the affected portion of the heart and in case if there is narrowing of any artery causing irregular heartbeat then that artery is repaired and the irregularity of heartbeat is controlled.

Do's and Don'ts When Having Heart Arrhythmia or Abnormal Heart Rhythm

For people with Heart Arrhythmia or Abnormal Heart Rhythm the following measures can be taken to help control the symptoms:

  • Eating a healthy and well balanced diet and avoiding fatty and spicy food
  • Involving in a regular exercise regimen
  • Not to indulge in smoking or drinking alcohol
  • Maintaining an ideal weight to avoid complications
  • Keeping blood pressure and cholesterol under control
  • Taking medications as prescribed.

What are the Complications of Heart Arrhythmia?

  • Stroke: This is one of the serious complications of Heart Arrhythmia
  • Heart Failure: Heart Arrhythmia can also result in Heart Failure.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: April 1, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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