Arrhythmia

Irregular Heartbeat

What is an Arrhythmia?

Arrhythmia is an irregular heart beat that can be either faster or slower than normal.

An arrhythmia can feel like the heart is racing, skips a beat, or 'flutter'.

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Causes

There are many reasons to why someone may have an arrhythmia:
  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Injury from a prior heart attack
  • A wrong balance of electrolyte (potassium or sodium)
  • Changes in the heart structure and muscles (cardiomyopathy)

Common Types of Arrhythmias

Tachycardia*- A heartbeat that is that is faster than normal, meaning faster than 100 beats per minute.

Bradycardia*- A heartbeat that is that is slower than normal, meaning slower than 60 beats per minute.

Atrial Fibrillation- A rapid heart rate that causes poor blood flow. This can lead to blood clots, stroke, and heart failure.

Others- There are numerous types of arrhythmias that can vary from the location to the frequency of the arrhythmias.

*Normal heart rate is between 60-100 beats per minute.

Risk Factors

25% of adults over 40 will develop an irregular heartbeat and 2.7 million Americans deal with atrial fibrillation.


Most of the risk factors are the same as the causes:


  • Aging
  • Heart attack
  • Cardiovascular conditions
  • Medication and other substances (caffeine and nicotine)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Persistent stress
  • Sleep apnea
  • Electrolyte imbalance

Prevention

There are steps you can take to try to prevent an arrhythmia:


  • Reduce high blood pressure
  • Avoid cigarette smoking
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Keep physical active
  • Control cholesterol levels
  • Limiting or avoiding caffeine and alcohol
  • Reducing stress
  • Using cautious when using over-the-counter drugs that rapidly increase heart rate (cold and cough medicine)

Treatment Options

In most cases, a patients arrhythmia would not need to be treated. It is only when the arrhythmias are causing further problems and are more sever. When treatment is needed the approach depends on the type of arrhythmia:


  • When a patient has bradycardia, a slower heartbeat, a pacemaker may be used to help the speed. A pacemaker is a little device that send electrical pulses to the heart to make it have a steady heartbeat. There are no medicines for treating this because there is not a reliable drug to speed up the heart safely.
  • Those who struggle with tachycardia, or a faster heartbeat, have different options for treatments. Medications that can lower your heart rate to a steady normal rate, it is important to take these as directed by a doctor.
  • For atrial fibrillation a doctor may prescription for a blood thinner. Another option may be cardioversion, which is a procedure that shocks the heart via paddle or patches to affect the electrolyte impulses and correct the rhythm.
  • There is also vagal maneuvers that involve maneuvers like holding your breath, coughing, or holding your face under water. This treatment does not work for all arrhythmias.

Resources

"Heart Arrhythmia: Treatment." Mayo Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016. <http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-arrhythmia/basics/treatment/con-20027707>.

"Abnormal Heart Rhythms (Arrhythmias) - Cleveland Clinic." Cleveland Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2016. <http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/heart/disorders/arrhythmia>.

"Prevention & Treatment of Arrhythmia." American Heart Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2016. <http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/PreventionTreatmentofArrhythmia/Prevention-Treatment-of-Arrhythmia_UCM_002026_Article.jsp#.VsZtX_krLIU>.

"Heart Arrhythmia." Mayo Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2016. <http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-arrhythmia/basics/treatment/con-20027707>.