Arrhythmias (Dysrhythmia - Tachycardia - Bradycardia)

What is arrhythmia?

Arrhythmia means the rhythm of the heartbeat has altered either in time or in force.

The heart is the muscle that pumps blood throughout your body. The blood transports oxygen, which is essential for your organs to function properly. The heart is made up of four parts (chambers). These chambers have to fill and drain in a specific order for the heart to work efficiently. An electrical system controls the heart's work, making sure that it beats in a constant and regular manner.

When the body is at rest, the heart usually beats between 60 and 100 times per minute. When the electrical system fails, the heart has dysrhythmia, meaning it is beating with an abnormal rhythm. If the electrical system fails in one chamber only, the heart's efficacy will be reduced because it will no longer beat in a synchronized manner. If there is too much current, the heart beats too fast (tachycardia). Not enough current, and it beats too slowly (bradycardia).

Whatever the cause, the result is always the same: the heart becomes an ineffective pump and every organ, the heart included, receives less oxygen and wears out faster.

What to avoid

Individuals with arrhythmia should avoid all situations that might over stimulate their hearts and thus make them work faster. For example, they should avoid certain foods, such as caffeine and spirits, or strenuous sports, such as weight lifting, sprinting, or racquetball.

Such individuals should also avoid stimulating over-the-counter drugs, such as oral decongestants, which are used to relieve nasal congestion due to a cold or the flu. They can, however, use topical decongestants (nasal sprays or drops), such as Otrivin™.

Can arrhythmia be cured?

NO. Arrhythmia cannot be cured, but it can be controlled with drugs called antiarrhythmic agents. These drugs work by restoring the heart's normal electrical system. Drug selection is based on where the agent should act and how the action should be carried out. For example, if a heart is beating too fast, a drug capable of slowing it down is selected. Conversely, if the heart beats too slowly, the physician will prescribe a drug that will make it beat faster.

Cardiologists (heart specialists) use electrocardiographs to analyse the heart's electrical system. The results of the analysis are printed on a chart called an electrocardiogram (ECG). The doctor uses the ECG to determine what the problem is and where it is occurring-and then selects the appropriate drug needed to restore normal heart rhythm.

All antiarrhythmic agents cause adverse effects. More often than not, these effects are temporary or can be relieved with non-pharmacological measures. Consult your pharmacist if you experience bothersome side effects.

What is a pacemaker?

A pacemaker is a heart stimulator that is programmed to deliver precise electrical stimulation to the heart. It is sometimes used for individuals with bradycardia (when the heart is beating too slowly). When medications are not able to restore the heart's normal rhythm, your doctor may advise you to get a pacemaker.

Can someone die from arrhythmia?

YES. Minor heart rhythm disorders are frequent and rarely require medication. However, if the heart's pumping function is severely impaired, blood circulation can become ineffective and drugs have to be used to prevent strokes and heart attacks (infarction).

For more information or for support :

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

www.heartandstroke.com

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