Heart Arrhythmia - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Heart Arrhythmia

Heart rhythm problems, or heart arrhythmias, mean your heart beat is irregular.

When you get nervous or angry, you may feel your heart rate speed up. While this is both common and normal, there are some cases where your heart rate may speed up or slow down that may indicate a more serious condition.

What is Heart Arrhythmia?

Heart rhythm problems, or heart arrhythmias, mean your heartbeat is irregular; arrhythmias occur when the electrical impulses that coordinate your heartbeats don’t work properly. The electrical impulses may happen too fast, too slow, or erratically – causing your heart to beat at the wrong tempo.

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, the heart can have an irregular rhythm or beat too fast or too slow.

Symptoms of Arrhythmia

An arrhythmia may feel like a fluttering or racing heart and sometimes is harmless. But, there are some heart arrhythmias that cause troublesome and potentially life-threatening symptoms.

Some arrhythmias may not cause any signs or symptoms; your doctor may discover you have one before you realize it. Noticeable symptoms of an arrhythmia don’t necessarily mean you have to worry, though. These symptoms can include:

  • Fluttering in your chest
  • Racing heartbeat, or tachycardia
  • Slow heartbeat, or bradycardia
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting or near fainting

But since some arrhythmias are harmless and some are not, how do you know when to see your doctor?

If you experience symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing, weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, near fainting, chest pain or discomfort, they can be signs that your heart is not pumping blood effectively. You should seek immediate medical care if you suddenly or frequently experience these symptoms at unexpected times.

Who is at Risk for Arrhythmia?

You can have an arrhythmia even if you have a healthy heart. Or it can be caused by heart disease, the wrong balance of electrolytes in your blood, changes in your heart muscle, injury from a heart attack, or the healing process after heart surgery. Blocked arteries in your heart, high blood pressure, diabetes, an overactive or underactive thyroid, smoking, drinking too much alcohol or caffeine, and drug abuse can lead to or cause arrhythmia.

Types of Arrhythmias

Arrhythmias can begin in the upper chambers of heart (atrial arrhythmias) or the lower chambers of the heart (ventricular arrhythmias). Arrhythmias can also be classified as slow (bradyarrhythmia) or fast (tachyarrhythmia). "Brady-" means slow, while "tachy-" means fast.

Some common arrhythmias include:

Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

In atrial fibrillation (AFib), a type of arrhythmia, the electrical signals controlling your heartbeat fire rapidly and chaotically. This causes the atria to quiver instead of contracting normally. Many of the signals also reach the ventricles, causing them to contract irregularly too. This results in a fast and irregular heart rhythm.

Over time, this can weaken the heart and lead to heart failure. Plus, when the atria do not contract effectively, the blood may pool in the heart. This increases the risk that a blood clot may form and travel to the brain, causing a stroke. People with AFib are 5 to 7 times more likely to have a stroke than people who do not have AFib.

Ventricular Fibrillation (VFib)

One deadly type of arrhythmia is ventricular fibrillation (VFib). With this type of arrhythmia, the lower chambers of the heart quiver and can't pump any blood, causing cardiac arrest. A person with ventricular fibrillation will collapse within seconds and soon won't be breathing or have a pulse. That means you need medical help immediately in the form of CPR and defibrillation, which can stop VFib. A defibrillator gives an electrical shock to the heart, which may restart heartbeats.

The majority of people who experience VFib have underlying heart disease or have experienced serious trauma, such as being struck by lightning.

Diagnosing Heart Arrhythmia

  • Heart Monitor: A holter monitor or insertable cardiac monitor can be used to monitor your heart rhythm over an extended time and identify abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Electrocardiogram: An electrocardiogram (EKG) is a recording of the heart’s electrical activity which can show different rhythms that provide clues to symptoms and potential problems.
  • Electrophysiology Study: An electrophysiological (EP) study is an invasive procedure that evaluates abnormal heart rhythm disturbances.

Treating Heart Arrhythmia

Crozer-Keystone offers a patient-centered approach to the detection and treatment of heart rhythm problems. Our comprehensive, holistic model involves education as well as medication management and surgical procedures. Surgery is considered when all other less-invasive treatments have not achieved desired results.

Our team works with the patient’s primary care and specialty physicians to individualize a care plan that best meets the patient’s needs.

Crozer-Keystone's specialists perform the following procedures to treat heart rhythm disorders in patients:

  • Pacemaker Implantation: A Pacemaker is a small device that is implanted under the skin that sends electrical signals to start or regulate a slow heartbeat.
  • Defibrillator Implantation: Defibrillators are electronic devices that sense and correct a dangerously abnormal heart rhythm; they can be implanted like a pacemaker.
  • Radiofrequency Ablation: Radiofrequency Catheter Ablation uses radio waves sent through a catheter to the heart muscle to permanently block the abnormal pathway followed by the electric signal.
  • Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy: Physicians place a small "biventricular resynchronization device under the patient's skin below the collarbone. This device causes the heart chambers to best "in synch" with one another. This improves the heart's pumping efficiency and helps to relieve heart failure symptoms.
  • Maze Procedure: Patients with atrial fibrillation may be candidates for the Maze procedure, a surgical intervention most often performed when a patient needs open heart surgery for another problem such as coronary artery disease.

Schedule an Appointment

To learn more about arrhythmias or request an appointment, please call 1-866-95-PULSE (1-866-957-8573) or request an appointment online.