Arrhythmia: Symptoms & Treatment

Written By: Dr Brajesh Mittal

Dr. Brajesh Mittal is an interventional cardiology specialist in Dubai. He has completed his MD from the University of Rajasthan in India, and has earned fellowship of several international bodies, including the American College of Cardiology, European Society of Cardiology, SCAI, Cardiology Society of India, Indian Society of Cardiology, and the Gulf Heart Association.

Updated On:January 23, 2024

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What is Arrhythmia?

Heart arrhythmia is the medical term for irregular heartbeats. Heart arrhythmias happen when the electrical signals that regulate how frequently the heart beats are not synchronized properly. The inadequate signaling causes the heart to beat too fast (tachycardia), too slowly (bradycardia), or irregularly.  Medical treatments for arrhythmia are available but maintaining a healthy lifestyle is as important.

 Causes of Arrhythmia

Arrhythmia can occur in a healthy heart. However, some causes of arrhythmia include the following:

  • Heart condition
  • Electrolyte imbalance in your blood
  • Heart damage
  • Recovery following heart surgery
  • Certain medicines
  • Problems with your heart's electrical signals
  • Intense emotions, stress, or surprise
  • Daily activities, such as drinking, smoking, using coffee, dark chocolate or exercising

Symptoms of Arrhythmia

In some cases, heart arrhythmias happen without warning. However, a routine check-up might allow the doctor to notice an irregular heartbeat. Arrhythmia symptoms and indicators may generally include the following

  • Heart flutter
  • Tachycardia
  • Bradycardia)
  • Chest discomfort
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Sweating
  • Fainting or nearly fainting

When to see a doctor for Arrhythmia?

If you feel that your heart is beating abnormally fast, abnormally slowly, or skipping a beat, schedule an appointment with a doctor. Get emergency medical help if you experience any of the following:

  • chest pain or discomfort,
  • shortness of breath,
  • a feeling of weakness or dizziness,
  • or if you are on the verge of fainting.

Ventricular fibrillation is a kind of arrhythmia, which cause ​​cardiac arrest. A person can collapse in a matter of seconds, at which point their breathing and pulse will stop. In this case, the attendant/bystander should take the following actions:

  1. Call an ambulance
  2. Perform hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if there is no nearby CPR-trained person. Until paramedics arrive, rapidly compress the middle of the chest at a pace of 100 to 120 compressions per minute.
  3. Start CPR if you or a nearby person is trained in it. Until an electrical shock can be administered, CPR can help preserve blood flow to the organs.
  4. If there is an automatic external defibrillator (AED) nearby, the bystander can get it and use it as directed. An AED is a portable defibrillator that can shock a patient to potentially restart their heartbeat.

Arrhythmia Risk Factors

The following factors increase the risk of heart arrhythmias:

  • Risk factors for practically any type of arrhythmia include narrowed heart arteries, a heart attack, faulty heart valves or heart failure, heart surgery that the patient previously underwent, cardiomyopathy, and other heart-related concerns.
  • The likelihood of developing coronary artery disease is increased by high blood pressure. Moreover, this might result in stiffening and thickening of the walls of the left ventricle, which might alter the way electrical signals go through the heart.
  • The rhythm of the heart may be impacted by having a heart problem from birth.
  • The risk of irregular heartbeats can increase if your thyroid gland is hyperactive or underactive.
  • Sleep-related breathing pauses brought on by obstructive sleep apnea can result in atrial fibrillation as well as a slowing of the heartbeat.
  • Electrolytes, which are found in the blood and include minerals like potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium, aid in the triggering and transmission of electrical impulses in the heart. Electrolyte imbalances, such as when they are too high or too low, can disrupt the heart's signals and cause irregular heartbeats.
  • Arrhythmias can be brought on by several prescription medications as well as some over-the-counter cough and cold remedies.
  • The electrical impulses in your heart can be impacted by excessive alcohol consumption, which increases the risk of atrial fibrillation.
  • Your heart may beat more quickly as a result of caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants, which could result in the emergence of more severe arrhythmias. Illicit substances like cocaine and amphetamines can have a serious negative impact on the heart, resulting in a variety of arrhythmias or even sudden death from ventricular fibrillation.

 Arrhythmia Complications

Heart arrhythmia consequences may often include cardiac failure, abrupt death, and stroke.

A higher risk of blood clots is related to heart arrhythmias. A stroke may result from a blood clot that escapes and travels from the heart to the brain. The risk of stroke associated with atrial fibrillation and other arrhythmias can be reduced by blood thinners. Your doctor would prescribe the blood thinner that is most convenient to you.

Controlling the heart rate by various means may enhance heart function if an arrhythmia is causing symptoms of heart failure.

Arrhythmia Diagnosis

The doctor will often conduct a physical examination and inquire about your medical history and symptoms in order to identify a heart arrhythmia. Tests may be carried out to confirm an irregular heartbeat and search for diseases like thyroid or heart illness that can lead to arrhythmias.

Testing to identify cardiac arrhythmias could consist of the following:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • Holter Monitor
  • Event Recorder
  • Echocardiogram
  • Implantable loop recorder

If such tests reveal no arrhythmia, your doctor may perform additional tests to try to induce one, such as the following:

  • Stress test
  • Tilt table test
  • Electrophysiological testing and mapping

Arrhythmia Treatment

If you have a fast heartbeat (tachycardia) or a slow heartbeat will determine how your cardiac arrhythmias are treated (bradycardia). Treatment is not necessary for all cardiac arrhythmias. Regular checks to keep an eye on your condition may be advised by your doctor.

Treatment for cardiac arrhythmias is typically only necessary if the irregular heartbeat is producing noticeable symptoms or if the disease increases your chance of developing more severe heart issues. Medication, therapies such vagal maneuvers, cardioversion, catheter procedures, or cardiac surgery may all be used to treat heart arrhythmias.

Arrhythmia Prevention

Heart arrhythmias may be prevented by making lifestyle changes that lower the risk of developing heart disease. A heart-healthy way of life consists of the following:

  • Diet that is heart-healthy
  • Maintaining an active lifestyle
  • Being healthy in terms of weight
  • Not smoking
  • Reducing or avoiding alcohol and caffeine
  • Reducing stress
  • Taking medications as prescribed and disclosing to your physician all medications you are taking, including those obtained without a prescription

 References

Antzelevitch, C., & Burashnikov, A. (2011). Overview of basic mechanisms of cardiac arrhythmia. Cardiac electrophysiology clinics3(1), 23-45.

D'Alessandro, A., Boeckelmann, I., Hammwhöner, M., & Goette, A. (2012). Nicotine, cigarette smoking and cardiac arrhythmia: an overview. European journal of preventive cardiology19(3), 297-305.

Gopinathannair, R., Etheridge, S. P., Marchlinski, F. E., Spinale, F. G., Lakkireddy, D., & Olshansky, B. (2015). Arrhythmia-induced cardiomyopathies: mechanisms, recognition, and management. Journal of the American College of Cardiology66(15), 1714-1728.

Khoo, C. W., Krishnamoorthy, S., Lim, H. S., & Lip, G. Y. (2012). Atrial fibrillation, arrhythmia burden and thrombogenesis. International journal of cardiology157(3), 318-323.

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