Heart Rhythm Disruptions: What You Should Know About Arrhythmia

Did you know that electric impulses travel along specific heart channels to pump blood in and out of the heart? Moreover, the functioning of the heart depends on the electrical activity of the heart muscle. And any breakdown in these impulses causes the heart to beat irregularly. These abnormal heart rhythms can cause the heart to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly. This medical condition is known as arrhythmia.

It is normal to have a higher heart rate while exercising because your heart works harder to supply tissues with oxygen-rich blood to prevent burnout. However, having a consistently elevated heart rate or an irregular pattern of beats can indicate an underlying condition that could lead to more serious health issues. While many people experience some type of irregular heart rhythm at some point in their lives, it is important to know the signs and symptoms associated with arrhythmia. Let’s get started. 

What is arrhythmia?

An arrhythmia is a heart condition that alters the rhythm or tempo of the heartbeat. This occurs when the electrical impulses that control heartbeats fail to function.

It can manifest in a variety of ways, ranging from a mild awareness of the heart racing to more extreme sensations such as chest pain and shortness of breath.

Does arrhythmia lead to medical complications?

Yes.  If left untreated, arrhythmia can lead to medical complications, such as :

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Dementia
  • Cardiac arrest

What causes arrhythmia?

The reasons for arrhythmias can be biological, psychological, emotional, or hereditary. Some of the causes are as follows:

  • Medical conditions such as high blood pressure, dehydration, and thyroid
  • Variations in blood flow or physical changes to the heart, such as scarring
  • Abnormal levels of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and calcium in the blood can affect the electrical signals that control your heartbeat.
  • Physical activities such as excessive exercise or coughing
  • An after-effect of antibiotic medication or drugs that treat allergies, depression, and high blood pressure
  • Common triggers include stress, caffeine, alcohol, smoking, and intense physical activities

What are the risk factors?

You may be more vulnerable to developing an arrhythmia if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Family history of arrhythmia
  • Cardiovascular artery disease
  • Heart valve condition
  • Heart failure or an attack
  • The hyperactive or underactive thyroid gland
  • Usage of drugs, especially stimulants and antihistamines,
  • Older age

Are there different types of arrhythmias?

Yes, there are several different types of arrhythmias. Based on speed, origin, and pattern of heartbeats, arrhythmias can be grouped as :

Bradycardia – happens when your heart rate falls to under 60 beats per minute. This condition may be inherited or arise as a complication of congenital heart disease or sleep apnea.

Tachycardia – It happens when the heart rate exceeds 100 beats per minute. If this condition lasts a short while, it might not be serious. However, if it persists for more than 30 minutes or is accompanied by chest pain, one may need emergency medical care.

Ventricular arrhythmia – It is a condition that starts in the heart’s lower chambers. It can induce a heart rate of 100 beats per minute or more and cause the heart to beat quickly and irregularly. 

Premature heartbeat – Premature heartbeat is also known as premature contractions or extra beats. It is caused by electrical impulses in the heart that trigger the heart muscle to contract earlier than normal.  This can result in a fluttering sensation in the chest, caused by the heart beating too fast or being out of sync.

How is an arrhythmia diagnosed?

A doctor may utilize the tests listed below to assist in making a diagnosis:

Electrocardiogram (ECG) – When using an ECG, it is possible to determine whether the electrical activity is swift, slow, or irregular. The test can also reveal whether there is an enlargement of the heart or a weakening of blood flow.

Holter monitor – It is a wearable ECG monitor worn at home or while engaging in regular activities. It records the heart’s activity over the course of 24 hours.

Stress test – A stress test enables a physician to keep track of your heartbeat while you work out to see whether exertion results in an arrhythmia.

Sleep research – If sleep apnea is the cause of your arrhythmia, a sleep study can confirm this.

Electrophysiological testing – During an electrophysiological test, the doctor puts tiny electrode catheters into your veins at various locations on your heart to map the electrical signals and identify an arrhythmia.

Which kinds of treatments are available?

When choosing a course of treatment, a doctor will consider whether your arrhythmia may contribute to more severe symptoms or other diseases. Some treatment options

Medication  – Your physician might prescribe the following medicine to help you control your arrhythmia and avoid consequences like a heart attack. 

Surgery – If medicine or other forms of therapy cannot treat your arrhythmia, Surgery is another option for treating arrhythmias, depending on the type and severity of the problem.

Catheter ablation – A cardiologist uses flexible tubes called catheters to guide the right part of your heart through your blood veins during catheter ablation. 

One of the catheters has an electrode at the end that leaves a minor scar to block electrical waves that lead to arrhythmias.

Pacemaker – During this procedure, a specialist inserts a pacemaker. If the pacemaker notices an irregular heartbeat, it regulates it by sending an electrical pulse through the wire.

Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) – The doctor inserts a pacemaker-like device known as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) into the collarbone, breastbone, or ribs. 

The device is useful if arrhythmias are potentially fatal or increase the risk of cardiac arrest.

What are the preventive measures?

There are many potential causes of arrhythmias, some of which you might be unable to avoid. Nevertheless, you can take the following steps to prevent the arrhythmia from reoccurring.

  • Identify the reason for your arrhythmia.
  • Follow healthy habits, such as consuming a heart-healthy diet with less salt and fat.
  • Quit smoking
  • Engage in regular exercise.
  • Maintain a moderate BMI.
  • Manage stress
  • Stay away from alcohol.
  • Maintain appropriate blood pressure and cholesterol levels

If you experience symptoms related to the common cold, don’t delay consulting your doctor. Receiving proper medical treatment and care is the only way to steer clear of any related medical complications.

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