Most will not affect overall health. Some arrhythmias can slow the flow of blood to the body or increase the risk of other health problems such as stroke.
The action of the heart is controlled by an electrical signal. The signal 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 cannot send normal electrical signals
The electrical signal cannot travel smoothly through the heart
Other influences like hormones or drugs make the SA node overreact
Other areas of the heart start an action that does not match the pattern of the SA node
Not all arrhythmias will cause symptoms. Some arrhythmias may be felt as a fluttering in the chest, skipped heartbeat, or fast heartbeat.
Arrhythmias that slow the flow of blood through the heart will also slow the flow of blood to the body. If the flow is slowed enough it can lead to:
Shortness of breath
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 will be checked with one of the following:
—Records the heart's activity for a period of time.
—An ECG that records heart activity over 24-48 hours. It can help find arrhythmias that do not occur in a regular pattern.
Exercise stress test
—An ECG that is taken while you do a physical activity. It can help find arrhythmias that only appear with
—Wires are passed through blood vessels to the heart. The wire sends electrical signals to the heart to try to start an arrhythmia. This will help to find where the arrhythmias is starting in the heart.
To help find what may be causing problems or to look for problems of the heart structure the doctor may also order:
Blood tests and urine tests—to look for abnormal levels of substances in the blood that may stimulate arrhythmias
Not all arrhythmias need to be treated. Many are harmless and will 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 treatment is to return 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. May also fix imbalances in the body that are causing the arrhythmia.
Cardioversion—Paddles send an electrical signal to reset the pattern of the heart.
Medical device implantation—A device is placed by the heart to track the heart's activity. It can also send an electrical signal to correct dangerous rhythms. Options include:
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