Arrhythmias may be short bursts of abnormal rhythms or last longer. Most will not affect overall health but some arrythmias can slow the flow of blood to the body or increase the risk of other medical conditions such as stroke.
The contraction of the heart is controlled by an electrical impulse. The impulse starts in a group of cells called the sinoatrial (SA) node and moves from the top to the bottom of the heart. The heart will contract first in the upper areas of the heart called the atria and then the lower areas of the heart called the ventricles. Arrhythmias may occur if:
The sinus node is damaged and can not send normal electrical impulses
The electrical impulse can not travel smoothly through the heart
Other influences like hormones or drugs stimulate the SA node
Other areas of the heart stimulate a contraction that does not match the pattern of the SA node
The doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and family history. A physical exam will be done including listening to your heart, taking your pulse, and looking for any signs of heart problems.
The electrical activity of the heart and any abnormal activity can be found with one of the following:
(EKG)—electrodes placed on the skin record the heart's activity for a period of time.
Holter monitor—an EKG device that records rhythm over 24-48 hours. It can help find arrythmias that randomly occur.
Exercise stress test—an EKG that is taken while you perform a physical activity. It can help find arrhythmias that may be only associated with
Not all arrhythmias need to be treated. Many are harmless and do not cause problems. When arrhythmias cause symptoms serious enough to affect your daily life or increase the risk of other conditions, treatment may be needed. The goal of arrhythmia treatment is to restore your heart to a normal rhythm. The type of treatment will depend on your specific arrhythmia and your overall health. Options include:
Medications—can be used to slow down or speed up your heart rate or correct imbalances that are causing an arrhythmia.
Cardioversion—certain rhythms can be shocked back into a normal rhythm. An electrical pulse is delivered through paddles to reset the electrical pattern of the heart.
Medical device implantation—a device may be implanted to track the heart's function and send an electrical impulse to correct the rhythm when needed. Options include:
provides regular electrical impulses to the heart to stimulate a healthy rhythm.
Other surgical options—destruction or scarring of certain areas of the heart tissue will control the flow of electrical impulses to help decrease arrhythmias. The destroyed or scarred tissue will also stop irregular impulses from traveling through the heart. Options include:
Ablation—An area of the heart that is responsible for an abnormal rhythm may be surgically removed or altered (ablated) with different techniques.
creates a pattern of scar tissue in the upper chambers of the heart. This makes a pathway for electrical impulses to travel through the heart. It also blocks the pathway for fast or irregular impulses.
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