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Arrhythmia is a heart problem where a person’s heartbeat does not beat at a normal pace. It could be too fast, too slow or have an irregular pattern. So, an arrhythmia is a disorder that has an effect on the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat.

In a heart that works properly, the electrical impulses that coordinate the activity of the heart muscle follow a specific pathway to each pump. Any disruption in these pathways or impulses causes the heart to beat abnormally. A single heartbeat involves quite a lot of steps. An electrical impulse by sinus node is sent to the right and left atria, instructing them to contract which allows the ventricles to fill with blood and once the ventricles fill, the electrical impulse travels to the centre of the heart to the atrioventricular node and exits the node to then travel to the blood-filled ventricles, telling them to contract which pushes the blood out of the heart and into the body for circulation. This is just one heartbeat. A normal heart beats 60 to 100 beats per minute while the person is at rest.

What are the types of arrhythmia?

Arrhythmias are named and categorized based on the heart rate (whether it’s too slow or too fast), origin (whether it’s in the ventricles or the atria) and regularity.

Following are the types of arrhythmia:

  • Tachycardia: it happens when the heart starts to beat too fast
  • Bradycardia: it happens when the heart starts to beat too slow
  • Premature contraction: it means that the heart is beating too early
  • Fibrillation or flutter: it means that the heartbeat is too erratic

What are the complications of an arrhythmia?

Arrhythmia can cause a stroke or heart failure.

A stroke may occur when the heart is not pumping blood properly because of fibrillation. When the blood does not get pumped properly, it may lead to the formation of clots and the clots might end up blocking the brain artery leading to a stroke.

Heart failure is when the body does not get sufficient blood supply and it can occur because of prolonged tachycardia or bradycardia.

What are the causes of arrhythmia?

Mentioned below are the causes of arrhythmia:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol or caffeine
  • Drug abuse
  • A heart attack
  • Scarring of heart tissue from a previous heart attack
  • Changes to the heart's structure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Over-active thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) and under-active thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
  • Mental stress
  • High blood pressure
  • Certain medications and supplements
  • Herbal treatments
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep apnea
  • Genetics
  • Old age

Most of the things that are mentioned above can be avoided and kept in check. It is advised that one regularly goes to the hospital to get himself/herself checked up and to ensure that the above-mentioned risk factors are not causing any serious damage to the heart.

What are the symptoms of arrhythmia?

It is quite normal for arrhythmia to not cause any symptoms. One’s doctor might detect an arrhythmia during a routine examination or on an EKG. Mentioned below are the symptoms of arrhythmia:

  • A fluttering in your chest
  • A racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • A slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Palpitations
  • Weakness
  • Fainting (syncope) or near fainting

Also, if a person shows all these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that he or she will have a serious problem. So, it is better to leave it to the doctor to decide and not worry too much even if one shows all the signs of having an arrhythmia.

How is arrhythmia diagnosed?

The doctor would have to make some tests that would help him figure out what it is that triggers the patient’s arrhythmia. Those tests would include:

  • EKG (electrocardiogram)
  • Echocardiogram
  • chest X-ray
  • Holter monitor - a wearable device that records the heart for 1-2 days
  • heart catheterization
  • electrophysiologic testing (or EP studies)
  • tilt-table test
  • blood and urine tests
  • the doctor would also want to know the patient's medical history, family history, diet, and lifestyle to make the correct diagnosis.

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