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Arrhythmia is a heart condition that causes a problem with the rhythm or rate of the heartbeat. An arrhythmia can happen at any age. However, it does not always indicate the affected person is suffering from a heart problem.

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Let us know more about arrhythmia in the following paragraphs.

Overview of arrhythmias

Arrhythmias are basically heart rhythm problems that occur due to misfiring of the electrical impulses that help the heartbeats coordinate and allow the heart to beat normally. Heart arrhythmias causethe heart to beat too fast, too slow or erratically. When this happens, the heart cannot pump blood properly to the lungs, brain and other organs, causing them to get damaged and even shut down.

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Types of arrhythmias

Arrhythmias can occur in the atria (upper heart chamber) or the ventricles (lower heart chamber). Most of the time, they are hardly noticeable, and in some cases, it can lead to sudden cardiac arrest.

There are different types of arrhythmias, that includes:

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Tachycardia leads to a rapid heartbeat. There are two types of tachycardia:

  • Supraventricular tachycardia, that is, rapid heartbeat in the atria or the AV node. It leads to:
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Atrial flutter
  • Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT)
  • Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) Syndrome

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Tachycardia in a Ventricle, that is, rapid heartbeat in the lower chamber of the heart. This leads to:

  • Ventricular tachycardia
  • Ventricular fibrillation


Slow heartbeat that prevents the heart from pumping enough blood into the body is called as bradycardia. It leads to dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, tiredness, etc. as enough blood does not reach the brain. It occurs due to abnormal function of the sinus node (sick sinus syndrome) or a heart block.

Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)

POTS is a condition where the affected person finds it difficult to adjust to a standing position after lying down. Their heartbeat can increase to 120 beats/minute after standing for just 10 minutes.

Symptoms of Arrhythmia

Most of the time, there are no observable symptoms of arrhythmias. They are often caught during a routine health checkup. However, some of the noticeable symptoms include:

  • Fluttering in the chest
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Low blood pressure

In some cases, arrhythmias can cause cardiac arrest or sudden death.

Causes of Arrhythmias

There are many factors that can lead to arrhythmias.

These include:

  • Malfunctioning heart cells that send our heart signals they aren’t supposed to send. This causes confusion within the heart, causing it to beat abnormally.
  • Blocked electrical signals that prevents the signals to reach the ventricles, causing the heart to beat slowly
  • Scarring of heart tissues
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Diabetes
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Smoking
  • Underactive or overactive thyroid
  • Stress
  • Use of certain prescription medications
  • Drug abuse
  • Drinking too much alcohol

Diagnosis of Arrhythmia

The doctor will conduct a complete physical examination and take the patient history. The diagnostic tests conducted to confirm arrhythmia include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • Electrophysiology studies (EPS)
  • Exercise electrocardiogram (Stress test)
  • Holter or event monitoring
  • Tilt-table exam

Treatment for Arrhythmia

The treatment of arrhythmia is based on whether the affected person is stable or unstable.

The management of arrhythmia includes:

  • Vagal maneuvers that help in stopping the supraventricular tachycardia to some extent. These maneuvers include holding the breath and straining, dunking the face in a bucket of ice water as well as coughing.
  • Medications like anti-arrhythmic drugs for tachycardia
  • Cardioversion, where shock is delivered to the heart through patches or paddles. Thus, helping in reducing arrhythmia like atrial fibrillation.
  • Catheter ablation where electrodes at the catheter tips is used to deliver heat or extreme cold or radiofrequency at a small area of the heart tissue. This helps in creating an electric block on the pathway that causes the arrhythmia.
  • Placement of pacemakers that helps in the treatment of abnormal heart rhythm.
  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) for those who are at risk of developing very fast or irregular heartbeats in the ventricles leading to sudden cardiac arrest.
  • Coronary bypass surgery incase of severe coronary artery disease.

Most of the time, arrhythmias go unnoticed. A routine check-up usually helps bring them to notice. However, if one suffers from dizziness, fatigue, fainting spells, breathlessness and rapid heartbeat or palpitations, they should get themselves examined by a doctor. Arrthytmias can help detect any underlying or possible heart disease.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: December 11, 2014