An irregular heartbeat appears when the electrical signals that control/coordinate the heartbeats don’t work correctly. Heart arrhythmias may feel like the heart is racing and may be harmless.
Sometimes heart arrhythmias cause no problem, but sometimes they become life-threatening. Sometimes heart arrhythmias are typical for a person to have a slow or fast heartbeat. Heartbeat increases during exercise or any activity, and it may be slow when you are at rest.
Types of heart rhythm problems
Heart arrhythmias can be grouped according to the speed of the heart. For example,
It is a fast heart rate, and a resting heartbeat is more than 100 beats per minute. Types of tachycardia are;
This condition may be temporary, but atrial fibrillation episodes may not end unless treated in some cases. It leads to severe conditions such as a stroke if you can’t treat it. Chaotic heart signals cause fast, uncoordinated heart rates.
Atrial flutter is the same as atrial fibrillation, but heartbeats are more organized in this condition. It also causes a stroke.
Supraventricular tachycardia is a vast term that includes arrhythmias that start from above the heart’s lower chamber. It causes episodes of palpitation that begin eventually and stop abruptly.
In this condition, arrhythmias appear when rapid, chaotic electrical signals cause the heart’s lower chamber to quiver rather than contracting in an organized way that pumps blood to the body.
If you can’t restore to a normal heartbeat within a few minutes, this severe condition can lead to death. Most people who have this ventricular fibrillation have underlying heart disease or have experienced severe trauma.
This regular, rapid heart rate starts due to faulty electrical signals in the heart’s lower chamber. In rapid heart rate, the ventricles do not fill appropriately with blood. The outcome, the heart can’t pump enough blood to the body.
Those who have heart disease require immediate medical treatment because ventricular tachycardia is a severe medical emergency condition.
A low heart rate does not always show a problem. Heart rate below 60 beats a minute while in resting condition. If your heart rate is slow and your heart is not pumping enough blood to the body, you may have bradycardia.
Types of bradycardias are the following:
Sick sinus syndrome
The sinus node in the heart is responsible for setting the heart’s pace. If it doesn’t work correctly/adequately, the heart rate may change from too fast and too slow.
Sick sinus is caused by scarring near the sinus node that slows, disturbs, and blocks the way to impulses. It is prevalent in older adults.
A blockage of the heart’s electrical signal pathways causes heartbeats to slow or stop. Some blocks may cause no problem, but some cause bradycardia.
The pattern of heartbeat changes with normal heartbeats; extra beats occur once at a time. The additional beats may come from the heart’s upper or lower chambers. A premature heartbeat may trigger long-lasting arrhythmias in people who have heart disease.
Frequent heartbeats that last after several years may lead to a weak heart. Premature heartbeats are caused by stress, exercise or caffeine, and nicotine (stimulants).
Signs and symptoms of heart arrhythmias
There are no clear signs and symptoms of irregular heartbeats. Generally, the signs are the following;
- Fast heartbeat
- Slow heartbeat
- Fluttering in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Blurry vision
Causes of arrhythmias or irregular heartbeat
Heartbeats usually go 60 to 100 beats a minute in a healthy heart. Heartbeats may become too slow or too fast in arrhythmias due to certain heart diseases.
Things that cause irregular heartbeat are the following;
- Previous heart attack
- Coronary artery disease (blockage of arteries in the heart)
- Infections like COVID-19
- Sleep apnea
- Changes in the heart structure
- Certain medications
- Drinking alcohol
- Drug abuse
Risk factors of arrhythmias
Things that increase the risk of heart arrhythmias are the following;
- Coronary heart diseases (narrowed heart arteries, a heart attack, heart surgery, cardiomyopathy, heart failure, and heart damage are the risk factors)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure causes coronary heart diseases)
- Congenital heart diseases (birth defects in the heart)
- Thyroid disease (over and under activity of the thyroid gland can be the risk of irregular heartbeats)
- Sleep apnea obstructive (pauses in breathing during sleep cause more risk of irregular heartbeats)
- Electrolytic imbalance (electrolytes are potassium, calcium, and magnesium help in sending impulses. Imbalance in electrolytes causes irregular heartbeats)
- Drugs and supplements (cough and cold medications cause irregular heartbeats)
- Excessive use of alcohol (drinking too much alcohol can affect the electrical impulses)
- Nicotine, caffeine (caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants cause irregular heartbeats and lead to severe conditions)
Lifestyle modification can reduce the risk of heart disease and help prevent arrhythmias. A healthy lifestyle modification includes;
- Staying physical active
- Eat a heart-healthy diet
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Quit smoking
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine
- Reduce stress (intense stress and anger cause irregular heartbeats)
- Do not use medications without prescription
Doctors will do some physical exams and ask questions about family history and symptoms during diagnosis. Doctors can do tests for confirmation; tests include;
- During an ECG, the sensor detects the electrical activity of the heart.
- Holter monitor. This device is worn for a day or more to check or record the heart’s activity.
- Event recorder. A wearable device is used to detect arrhythmias.
- A hand-held device used sound waves to provide an image of the heart’s size, structure, and motion.
- Implantable loop recorder. This recorder is implanted under the chest skin to record the heart’s electrical activity and irregular rhythms.
Treatment of arrhythmias
Treatment of arrhythmias depends on a slow heartbeat and a fast heartbeat. Some arrhythmias need no treatment; you can cure them. It can need treatment when heart arrhythmias show/cause significant symptoms.
If you cannot treat the condition, it causes many severe risks to the heart. Treatment includes medications and therapies.
Medications depend on the condition and type of heart arrhythmias. Blood thinners may be prescribed in atrial fibrillation to stop blood clots formation. It is important to take prescribed medicines exactly as directed.
Medications that treat heart arrhythmias include;
- Calcium channel blockers
- Potassium channel blockers
- Sodium channel blockers
Vagal maneuvers and cardioversion are the therapies that are used to treat irregular heart rhythms.
This therapy is recommended for patients with a fast heartbeat due to supraventricular. Vagal maneuvers slow down the heartbeats by affecting the nervous system that controls heartbeats.
Your doctor might tell you to do this to control arrhythmias by holding your breath, dunking your face into an ice tub, straining, or coughing. Vagal maneuvers cannot work for all types of arrhythmias.
This treatment is suggested for patients who have atrial fibrillation arrhythmias. It can restore the heartbeats. A shock is delivered to your heart by patches or paddles during this procedure. The current affects the heart and restores the heartbeats.
Surgery or other procedures
Surgery and other techniques are used to treat heart arrhythmias, including;
- Catheter ablation
- Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator
- Maze procedure
- Coronary bypass surgery