The heart is a muscle that pumps blood to the various organs. To pump properly, the heart muscle receives electrical impulses from the electrical centre of the heart. Each impulse causes the heart to beat, circulating blood throughout the body. At rest, the heart normally beats 50-80 times per minute.
Arrhythmia is a problem with the heart's rhythm, and therefore its electrical system. Tachycardia is an abnormally rapid heart rate (more than 100 beats per minute), bradycardia is an abnormally slow heart rate (fewer than 60 beats per minute), and fibrillation is an irregular and disorganized heart rate.
Most arrhythmias are not severe and do not cause major health problems. However, some forms can be dangerous and require immediate medical attention. Symptoms are highly variable. They depend on many factors, including the type of arrhythmia and the general health of the heart. It's common for arrhythmia to be asymptomatic. Symptoms that do develop may include the following:
- Palpitations (an irregular heartbeat in the chest or a pounding in the neck)
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Loss of consciousness
Causes and triggers
There are many possible causes of arrhythmia. Examples include any type of heart issue (e.g., heart attack, high blood pressure), diabetes, thyroid problems, alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, stress, and certain medications.
Certain minor forms of arrhythmia do not require treatment. In other cases, lifestyle changes, medications, or medical interventions are needed.
Medications used to treat arrhythmia can help slow or regulate the heart rate. The surgical implantation of a pacemaker or defibrillator is sometimes necessary to prevent complications. In some cases, arrhythmia can be traced to a small fibre in the heart muscle, which can be burned to restore normal function.
Certain lifestyle changes can also be beneficial. The following is recommended:
- Avoid stress.
- Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Quit smoking.
- Adopt a balanced diet.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise according to your fitness level.
When should I see a health care professional?
Consult a health care professional immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Chest discomfort
- Heart palpitations (an irregular heartbeat in your chest or a pounding in your neck)
- Shortness of breath