Abnormal Heart Rhythms (Arrhythmias)

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About

Each year millions of people have abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), which are common as we age. For most, a normal resting heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm). For athletic individuals, a normal resting heart rate may be as low as 40 to 60 bpm. Abnormal heart rhythms can be described as a heart beating too fast (above 100 bpm) or slow (below 60 bpm), a fluttering sensation in the chest area or the skipping of a heart beat. When electrical impulses in the heart become too fast, too slow, or irregular they cause the heart to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly.

Abnormal heart rhythms may cause the heart to pump blood inefficiently causing poor blood circulation in the body. As a result, less oxygen reaches other parts of the body and can cause organ damage. In most cases, abnormal heart rhythms are harmless, however, some cases may cause uncomfortable symptoms like dizziness, palpitations, pounding in the chest, fainting, shortness of breath, weakness, or fatigue. If some types of abnormal heart rhythms are left untreated, they may even cause sudden cardiac death.

Types

Main types of arrhythmia include:

Bradycardia – heart beating too slow, below 60 beats per minute (bpm). For athletic individuals, a normal resting heart rate can be below 60 bpm, and not cause problems. Bradycardia is caused by a disruption of the electrical impulses conducted by the heart. Aging, hypothermia, damage from a heart attack or heart disease, and other factors can contribute the disruption of impulses.

Tachycardia – heart beating too fast, above 100 beats per minute (bpm). Tachycardia is caused by a disruption of the electrical impulses conducted by the heart. Damage from a heart attack or heart disease, congenital heart disease, high blood pressure, smoking, other factors can contribute the disruption of impulses.

  • Atrial or Supraventricular tachycardias – occurs either in the upper chambers (atria) or the middle region.
  • Sinus tachycardia – a correctly functioning heart with a faster heart rate.
  • Ventricular tachycardias – occurs in the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles), can be life-threatening.

Fibrillation – quivering heart.

  • Atrial fibrillation – manageable condition, a common abnormal heart rhythm.
  • Ventricular fibrillation – a life-threatening condition.

Premature contraction – early heart beat.

  • Premature atrial contractions (PACs) – occurs in the upper chambers of the heart (atria).
  • Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) – occurs in the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles).

Symptoms

Abnormal heart rhythms can cause a wide range of symptoms, some symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Dizziness.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Fainting.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Sudden cardiac arrest, in severe cases.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, consult a MemorialCare Physician partner.

Diagnosis

Treatments

Follow Up Care

Lifestyle Changes
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine use.

We offer classes and support groups that focus on the how to care for your heart and vascular system.

Medications

Antiarrhythmic drugs can help correct an irregular or abnormal heartbeat. There are a wide variety of medications available for the treatment options. Our cardiologists have extensive experience in the use of drug therapy in the treatment of abnormal heart rhythms and can prescribe a medication suited to the specific type of abnormal heart rhythms. In many cases, abnormal heart rhythms cannot be cured with medications, but can be controlled. Your cardiologist and primary care physician play an important role in the regulation of this medication.

Follow-up Care

MemorialCare's experienced staff provides follow-up care for abnormal heart rhythms. Follow-up care may include:

  • Pacemaker and Arrhythmia Clinic – Patients with an implanted pacemaker or cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) may receive outpatient follow-up care at Saddleback Memorial's clinic.