Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
Introduction to Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
An arrhythmia refers to an abnormal heart rhythm. This can mean a heart beat that is too fast, too slow, or irregular.
What is an Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)?
An arrhythmia refers to an abnormal heart rhythm. This can mean a heart beat that is too fast, too slow, or irregular. This is a common condition and is often benign, but may be an indication of an underlying heart problem. Any age groups can be affected by this condition, and the most common types of arrhythmia include:
Atrial fibrillation (AF) – The heart beats irregularly and faster than normal. This is the most common type of arrhythmia. This is much more common in older people,
Ventricular fibrillation – A very rapid and irregular rhythm. This is much rarer and can lead to a loss of consciousness or sudden death, and must be treated immediately.
Supraventricular tachycardia – This can present as episodes of a rapid heart beat whilst at rest.
Bradycardia – when the heart beats abnormally slow.
Heart block – another condition where the heart beat slows, and can result in a sudden collapse.
What causes an Arrhythmia?
An arrhythmia can occur as a complication caused by a wide range of underlying heart conditions, such as if you’ve had a heart attack or heart failure. Other problems affecting your heart such as heart valve disease, coronary heart disease, some congenital disorders and high blood pressure could also be the cause.
It’s important to remember that just because you have an arrhythmia it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a serious heart condition, and a number of causes unrelated to underlying heart diseases also exist. Genetics, infection, fever, thyroid disease, various drugs and stimulants such as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and amphetamines can also result in an arrhythmia developing.
What are the symptoms of an Arrhythmia?
The symptoms you might experience vary depending on the severity and type of arrhythmia, and you may not get any at all. How often you experience them can vary as well, ranging from only a couple of times a year to everyday. Some common symptoms include: Palpitations – an unpleasant awareness of your heartbeat, a pulse that is too fast, too slow, or irregular, dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath
or chest pain or discomfort.
How is an Arrhythmia treated?
If you are concerned about your symptoms and suspect that you may be suffering from this condition, it is important you speak with your GP. You may be referred to a specialist cardiologist for an ECG test, as this is the most effective way of diagnosing an arrhythmia. Sometimes, if the arrhythmia is benign and unlikely to cause a serious problem, avoiding triggers such as caffeine or alcohol can reduce palpitations.
You may be prescribed medications to help control your arrhythmia in various ways, these include beta-blockers and antiarrhythmic drugs. If you have atrial fibrillation it is likely you will be advised to take anticoagulant medicines such as warfarin, commonly known as blood thinners. Atrial fibrillation increases the chances of having a stroke, so this is to minimise that risk by reducing the likelihood of developing a blood clot.
There are also a number of other medical procedures that are used to treat arrhythmias:
- A controlled electrical shock to your heart, delivered through a machine called a defibrillator, in an effort to correct your heart rhythm. You will be anaesthetised or sedated for this procedure.
- Under local anaesthetic, a small battery powered device that produces electrical signals to control your heart is implanted into your chest.
Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)
- Similar to a pacemaker and usually fitted under anesthetic, this device can deliver a tiny electric shock to your heart if it detects an abnormal heart beat.
Catheter ablation therapy
- This keyhole treatment is conducted under a sedative or anaesthetic. It uses radiofrequency energy or extremely cold temperatures to remove the damaged tissue in your heart causing the arrhythmia.