Arrhythmias are uncoordinated or irregular contractions of the heart muscle caused by a problem in the electrical system of the heart. Some arrhythmias are benign and will not affect your overall health or cause symptoms. Others may be more serious and require treatment.
It may help to first understand how the heart should work. The heart is made up of 4 chambers:
The contraction of these 4 chambers needs to be coordinated to be able to efficiently move blood throughout the body. The atria contract first to push blood into and help fill the ventricles. Then the ventricles contract to push blood to the body or lungs. The nerves of the heart stimulate and coordinate the heart muscles in an organized manner:
The electrical signal starts in the sinoatrial (SA) node in the right atrium.
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Arrhythmias may affect the timing of the contractions between the atria and ventricles, or the speed and strength of contractions of the 4 different chambers. This may cause:
About arrhythmia. American Heart Association website. Available at:http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/AboutArrhythmia/About-Arrhythmia_UCM_002010_Article.jsp#. Updated October 26, 2016. Accessed June 1, 2017.
Heart diseases & disorders. Heart Rhythm Society website. Available at: http://www.hrsonline.org/Patient-Resources/Heart-Diseases-Disorders. Accessed June 1, 2017.
What is an arrhythmia? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/arr. Updated July 1, 2011. Accessed June 1, 2017.
Last reviewed June 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC Last Updated: 12/20/2014