Irregular Heartbeat: What It Is And How It's Treated - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on September 09, 2014

Irregular Heartbeat: What It Is And How It's Treated

Irregular Heartbeat: What It Is And How It's Treated

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From time to time, you might get excited or drink one too many cups of coffee and feel a flutter in your heart. Just as quickly as you feel it, it goes away. But how do you know if this feeling is a fluke or something more serious?

Heart health is something you should take very seriously, so it’s a good idea to know when that fleeting flutter may be putting your health at risk.

To have a healthy, regular heartbeat – which is typically 60 to 100 beats in a minute – your heart’s chambers need to work together in harmony. With an irregular heartbeat, often called an arrhythmia, the heart can have an irregular rhythm or beat too fast or too slow.

“There’s a very long list of types of arrhythmias that range from benign, where no treatment is needed, to very serious to where a patient might need special treatment or a pacemaker,” said Ancil A. Jones, M.D., a Crozer-Keystone Health System cardiologist.


Sometimes people with arrhythmias may not even know it.

“Some arrhythmias are asymptomatic and the patient doesn't feel anything,” Dr. Jones said. For those who have an arrhythmia, but no symptoms, they will likely be diagnosed by tests performed by a doctor, including an electrocardiogram (ECG). Sometimes doctors and other healthcare providers can detect it while taking your pulse.

However, there are some cases when patients do experience symptoms.

“Sometimes a patient feels extra heartbeats, heart flutters, heart skips or palpitations. In extreme cases, a patient may get dizzy or faint or sometimes get short of breath or have chest pain,” he said.

But Dr. Jones advises to not be too worried if you are diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.

“People may be alarmed when they don't need to be. Some arrhythmias are serious and require treatment, but many arrhythmias have little potential for harm and should not be a cause for concern,” he said.


Since there are so many different types of arrhythmias, the treatment really depends on the severity of the case.

“The treatment for arrhythmias is not the same in every patient – it varies over the entire spectrum of cases,” Dr. Jones said. Sometimes, no treatment is needed, but in other cases, treatments can include medication or implantable devices, such as pacemakers or implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD).

When a pacemaker detects an abnormally slow heart rate, it emits electrical impulses that stimulate your heart to beat at a normal rate. An ICD continuously monitors your heart and when it detects an abnormal rhythm, it may send out a shock to reset your heart to a normal rhythm.

Depending on the condition of your irregular heartbeat, Dr. Jones said there are some lifestyle changes you can make to treat it. Some of those changes include avoiding an excess of caffeine and limiting alcohol consumption.

“Sometimes alcohol can set off certain arrhythmias,” he explained.

Weight loss, especially with people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, is suggested as a lifestyle change since that is strongly associated with a type of arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation, Dr. Jones said.

Sometimes cigarette smoking is related to arrhythmias, so quitting is advised.

While following a healthy lifestyle is always recommended, Dr. Jones said it might not necessarily make a difference with certain types of irregular heartbeat.

“Some arrhythmias aren't related to any underlying abnormality of heart muscle, heart valve or heart artery. They can happen to people that are otherwise perfectly healthy,” he stated.

But, overall, when it comes to irregular heartbeat, Dr. Jones has one general piece of advice: “Maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow your doctor’s advice.”

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