It can be frightening to experience arrhythmia. You should call the emergency services if you feel your heartbeat is irregular, or if you have chest pains or giddiness, and you need to be seen by an A&E doctor.
If you don’t know what irregular heartbeats are, then read on.
What is an arrhythmia and how can it be treated?
Your heart beats in a steady rhythm. This rhythm is controlled by electrical activity within your body. Your heart’s sinus node monitors the amount of blood you need and sends out electrical impulses to cause your heart chambers to contract at the right rate for your body. The average person has a resting heart beat of 60-100 beats per hour. This can increase during exercise and stressful situations. This is normal. Arrhythmia refers to a sudden change in the rhythm of your heartbeat, such as if it beats too fast or too slowly, or at an irregular rate.
What are the various types of arrhythmias?
Arrhythmia can be either ventricular (starting within the lower ventricles) or supraventricular. They are usually found in the atria (the upper chambers of your heart), and can be either ventricular or supraventricular. There are two types of arrhythmia:
Premature atrial contractions
- These extra beats are also known as APCs or PACs.
Premature ventricular contractions
- These are also known as PVCs and they are very common. They are caused by ventricles contracting too quickly.
Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT)
- This is also known as paroxysmal supraventricular Tachycardia (PSVT) and paroxysmal refers to occasional. It is caused by electrical impulses within the atria.
- V-tach is also known as a rapid heart beat. It starts from the lower part of the heart. This is because the heart cannot fill up with enough blood.
- This is a rapid, irregular rhythm in the heart where your muscles or heart fibres contract and contract rapidly.
- This is a medical emergency in which the lower chambers of the heart can’t contract to pump blood.
- This is similar in nature to atrial fibrillation but it’s more frequent. Atrial fibrillation is often caused by misfired electrical signals, which can cause irregular heartbeats and atrial flutter.
Tachycardia accessory pathway
- This is due to an additional pathway between the chambers of your heart.
- This is usually due to problems with the electrical system of your body.
This can be caused by a slowing down of impulses passing through your heart. In some cases, the impulses may become blocked, which can cause irregular heartbeats.
Depending on your type of arrhythmia you may experience these symptoms:
- Heart palpitations can feel like heart palpitations.
- Feeling of pounding in your chest or rapid heartbeat
- You should feel tight in your chest
- Breathing difficulties
- Feelings of weakness or fatigue
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- In extreme cases, sudden heart attack and collapse may be necessary.
- An arrhythmia could be caused by structural problems in your heart or congenital defects. These could include an ongoing heart attack, scarring from a previous heart attack, or blocked arteries.
- Arrhythmia can also be a sign of heart disease. One of the above-mentioned electrical disorders (such as atrial fibrillation and heart block) could be the cause.
- Long QT syndrome is an electrical disorder that can cause severe arrhythmia and may be passed on to patients.
- Other cases may also be caused by sick sinus syndrome. This is a set of symptoms that indicate the sinus node in the heart isn’t working properly.
Arrhythmias may also occur when there are problems with the heart.
- High blood pressure
- Thyroid disorders
- Lung disease
- COVID-19 Infection
- Electrolyte imbalances, such as potassium or sodium in the blood, can cause electrolyte imbalances.
Other acute diseases
- Stress, anxiety, smoking, high levels of alcohol or caffeine intake and certain medications, supplementation and stimulants such as illegal drugs are all possible causes for arrhythmia.
- The sensation of missing heartbeats or an extra heartbeat will be felt by most people at some time. It is not dangerous and it does not pose any risk to your health. If this occurs for a prolonged period of time or with other symptoms, it could be a sign that there is something more.
Diagnostics for arrhythmia
- If you suffer from arrhythmia, it is important to visit a doctor regularly. To determine why your heart isn’t working as it should, your doctor may perform tests. You might undergo:
- This type of ultrasound is used to examine the structure of your heart.
- This test, also known as an EKG (or ECG), records electrical activity in your heart.
- Sometimes, doctors may ask you to run or walk on a treadmill while keeping an eye on your heart rate.
- Your doctor may ask you to wear a monitor that records your heart’s activity throughout the day.
- This involves the injection of dye into your heart using a catheter. The ultrasound then shows you how it looks.
- Remember to call a doctor immediately if you have an arrhythmia that is severe or unexpected or accompanied with dizziness, chest pains or other symptoms. Instead, contact the emergency services or go to the A&E department.
- Your arrhythmia and the treatment you receive from your doctor will be tailored to your individual needs. While you may only need medication to manage your symptoms, in some cases, more intervention may be required.
- An electrical cardioversion is an electric shock to the chest wall that rests your heart rhythm.
- A pacemaker, which sends electrical impulses through the heart, is an option if you need a longer-term solution.
Implantable cardioverter defibrillator
- You may need an implantable cardioverter, which monitors your heart rate and delivers an electrical shock to restore the rhythm if it beats too fast or too slow.
- Doctors might recommend heart surgery to relieve your symptoms. However, this is rarely an option.
Maintaining a healthy heart
Everyone should keep their heart healthy, even if there are no heart conditions. You can keep your heart healthy by getting plenty of exercise, quitting smoking, eating a balanced diet, and maintaining a healthy weight. Eat lots of heart-healthy foods, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes such as chickpeas or black beans, and lean protein. Avoid trans fats and processed foods. You and your heart will have the best chance to prevent arrhythmias and other heart diseases by taking care of yourself.