You may feel your heart rate speed up when you get nervous or angry. This is usually a common and normal occurrence but there are some cases when speeding and slower heart rates could indicate a more serious condition.
What is Heart Arrhythmia?
Heart arrhythmia means your heartbeat is irregular. It occurs when the electrical impulses that control the beating of your heart ordinate your heartbeats don’t work properly. The impulses may happen too fast, too slow, or erratically. That causes your heart to beat at the wrong tempo, too fast or too slow, rather than the 60 to 100 beats per minute of a normal heartbeat.
Symptoms of Arrhythmia
An arrhythmia may feel like a fluttering or racing heart. It is often harmless but there are some heart arrhythmias that can be troublesome and potentially life-threatening. Some arrhythmias may not cause any signs or symptoms. In fact, your doctor may discover you have one before you even realize it. If you have symptoms of an arrhythmia, you don’t necessarily have to worry, though you should talk with your physician.
Symptoms of an arrhythmia can include:
- Fluttering in your chest
- Racing heartbeat, or tachycardia
- Slow heartbeat, or bradycardia
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Fainting or near fainting
Some arrhythmias are harmless while others are not. You should seek medical care if you experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, near fainting, chest pain or discomfort. Those symptoms can be signs that your heart is not pumping blood effectively.
Get immediate medical care if these symptoms occur suddenly or at unexpected times.
Who is at Risk for Arrhythmia?
Even people who have healthy hearts can have an arrhythmia, or they can be caused by several factors, including:
- Heart disease
- An incorrect balance of electrolytes in your blood
- Changes in your heart muscle
- Injury from a heart attack
- The healing process after heart surgery
Other causes of arrhythmia can include:
- Blocked arteries in your heart
- High blood pressure
- An overactive or underactive thyroid
- Drinking too much alcohol or caffeine
- Drug abuse
Types of Arrhythmias
Arrhythmias can also be classified as either bradyarrhythmia (slow) or tachyarrhythmia (fast). Common arrhythmias include:
- Atrial Fibrillation (AFib):
In atrial fibrillation (AFib), electrical signals that control your heartbeat fire rapidly and chaotically. This causes the atria, or upper chambers of your heart, to quiver instead of contracting normally. Many of the electrical impulses also reach the ventricles and causes them to contract irregularly. The result is a fast and irregular heart rhythm.
An irregular heartbeat can weaken the heart over time, and lead to heart failure. In addition, when the atria do not contract effectively, blood may pool in the heart. That increases the risk that blood clot may form and travel to the brain, where it can cause a stroke. People who have AFib are five to seven times more likely to have a stroke than people who do not have AFib.
- Ventricular Fibrillation (VFib)
Ventricular fibrillation (VFib)can be a deadly type of arrhythmia. 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 Health System 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.
We offer specialized services to treat complex arrhythmias in patients who have failed to respond to conservative therapies, including minimally-invasive surgical procedures. Complex arrhythmias include conditions such as atrial fibrillation, premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) and ventricular tachycardia. Our electrophysiologists use intracardiac ultrasound and contact force-sensing catheters to enable safe and effective treatment of these conditions.
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.
From the Heart: Jeanne
Jeanne Gionfriddo from Folsom, Pa. suffered a sudden onset of atrial fibrillation. Electrophysiologist Sandeep Sharma, M.D. performed a catheter ablation to save her life.