Abnormal heart rhythms or arrhythmias present serious problems. Untreated, they can cause stroke, heart attacks, and death.
Arrhythmias affect about 5 percent of the United States population. According to the American Heart Association, they are deadly even for younger adults.
Most people who have a heart rhythm disorder don’t know it. Arrhythmias cause subtle symptoms that people attribute to other medical issues.
This article explores possible problems with heart rhythms. It explains their causes and recommended treatments and answers some patients’ frequently asked questions.
Types of Heart Rhythm Disorders and Their Causes
Abnormal heart rhythms include premature heartbeats, bradycardia, tachycardia, and atrial fibrillation. Getting ACLS certification (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) helps medical staff learn to treat them.
If you experience a premature heartbeat, you may feel like your heart skipped a beat. This problem happens when the heart beats out of rhythm. A premature heartbeat could cause other arrhythmias.
Bradycardia is a slow heartbeat. Any heartbeat below 60 beats per minute is bradycardia. Athletes’ hearts may be able to pump enough blood with a low heart rate.
If your heart rate is low and you can’t pump enough blood, you may have one of the following problems:
- Conduction Block: This occurs when an electrical signal does not go through the heart.
- Sick Sinus Syndrome: As the heart’s pacemaker, the sinus node needs to work. If not, it could result in a slow heartbeat, rhythm problems, and pauses between heartbeats.
Tachycardia is a too-rapid heartbeat. Here are three common types of this problem.
- Ventricular Fibrillation: The heart’s lower chambers (ventricles) are weak and without rhythm. This issue makes it difficult for blood to reach other body parts. It is an emergency caused by electrical problems in the heart.
- Ventricular Tachycardia: The heart beats faster than 170 beats per minute. High blood pressure or heart valve problems could cause it. Cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart) may also bring it about.
- Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT): This problem happens in the heart’s upper chambers. It causes a heart rate between 150 to 220 beats per minute. This fast heartbeat does not need treatment unless you already have heart disease. Smoking, alcohol, caffeine, and heart disease could cause it.
Tachy-Brady syndrome could come from sick sinus syndrome or AFib. This disorder involves the heart going too fast and then too slow. Symptoms include lightheadedness.
Atrial fibrillation or AFib is the most common heart rhythm problem. AFib comes from incorrect electrical signals to the heart.
AFib causes rapid, irregular beats in the heart’s upper chambers. Sometimes the heart goes faster than 400 beats per minute. AFib also causes blood clots and strokes.
Treatments for Abnormal Heart Rhythms
The heart rhythm problems described here often respond to treatment. Here are the three primary therapies for heart rhythms.
Medical professionals with ACLS training may be able to help with these procedures.
- Cardioversion: This procedure involves shocking the heart with low-energy bursts. It restores a regular rhythm.
- Vagal Maneuvers: Patients perform these actions under supervision to slow their heart rhythms. They include coughing, dunking the face in cold water, and activating the gag reflex. These maneuvers activate the vagus nerve. This nerve controls automatic bodily functions.
Medications treat fast, slow, and irregular heartbeats. Here are several examples of these drugs.
- Fast Heartbeats: Beta and channel blockers treat fast heartbeats. Beta-blockers include atenolol, labetalol, and metoprolol. Sodium, calcium, and potassium blockers also work.
- Slow Heartbeats: Few medications can treat a slow heartbeat. Doctors use atropine in emergencies. Persistent slow heartbeats often receive pacemakers.
- Irregular Heartbeats: Channel blockers treat these heartbeats as well. These drugs include beta-blockers, potassium, sodium, and calcium blockers. Lidocaine and ibutilide IVs also help.
Here are examples of surgical procedures that help regulate heart rhythms.
- Pacemakers: Pacemakers help regulate the heart’s rhythm. Surgeons implant them near the collarbone with electrodes to the heart. The pacemaker delivers an electric shock when it detects a problem.
- Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator: This device is the next step up from a pacemaker. It monitors the patient’s irregular heartbeat. If there is a problem, it delivers a more considerable shock to the heart.
- Catheter Ablation: The surgeon uses a thin tube to pass a tiny electrode through the heart’s blood vessels. The electrode uses heat or cold energy to form strategic scar tissue. The scar tissue blocks incorrect electrical signals in the heart. Catheter ablation is not as invasive as other surgical treatments.
Frequently Asked Questions About Arrhythmias
You may have many questions about abnormal heart rhythms. Here are a few answers.
What are the symptoms of arrhythmia?
This list covers the most common symptoms. In many cases, you will not have symptoms. A slow or racing heartbeat could be the first sign. You could feel fluttering in your chest. Light-headed or dizzy feelings are common. Your heart may feel as if it’s skipping beats.
How are these problems diagnosed?
Doctors run many tests to diagnose heart rhythm disorders. Your doctor may prescribe a Holter monitor for a few days to track heart events. You may have a heart ultrasound or an electrocardiogram (ECG). Treadmill tests can show exercise-induced heart rhythm problems.
Can arrhythmias be cured?
Cardiac ablation can cure some abnormal heart rhythms. Still, many more are treatable.
Living With Heart Rhythm Issues
Arrhythmias are frightening and challenging to understand, but trained physicians can treat most issues. Heart rhythm issues sometimes cause doctors to give you activity restrictions. Patients often carry on with their everyday lives.
If you suspect you have an abnormal heart rhythm, please see a doctor immediately and have a complete examination.
Some heart arrhythmias have no noticeable symptoms. You will need to attend all preventive health screenings for your doctor to catch them.
ACLS Training Can Help
If you are a healthcare provider, look into becoming ACLS certified. You will learn how to help patients survive cardiac ailments, including arrhythmias. Contact us today to discover how you can become a certified cardiac care professional.
Author Bio for Kate Macmorn