Treating Abnormal Heart RhythmsOct 1, 2019
By: Dr. Neil Galindez is a cardiothoracic surgeon with Florida Medical Center
You may be standing still, but your heart never stops moving. Even at rest, the average heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute. If you listened to your heart through a stethoscope, you would hear a steady thump-bump rhythm, but problems can develop if the cadence starts going too fast or too slow, resulting in an arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat.
An arrhythmia occurs when the heart beats too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia) or irregularly. Some common causes of abnormal heartbeats are:
- Abnormal levels of potassium
- Heart attack, or a damaged heart muscle from a past heart attack
- Congenital heart disease
- Heart failure or an enlarged heart
- Overactive thyroid gland
- Substances or drugs, including alcohol, caffeine or stimulants, such as amphetamines, beta-blocker, nicotine or antidepressants
- Some of the more common abnormal heart rhythms are:
- Atrial fibrillation or flutter, where the heart ventricles beat very rapidly in a regular pattern
- Atrioventricular nodal reentry tachycardia (AVNRT), where there is an abnormal electrical impulse starting in the atria
- Heart block or atrioventricular block, where the electrical signals that stimulate heart muscle contractions are blocked between the atria and the ventricles
- Multifocal atrial tachycardia, where multiple locations in the atria fire signals at the same time
- Sick sinus syndrome, where the sinus node – the heart’s natural pacemaker – doesn’t work properly
Symptoms of arrhythmia can include fainting, skipped beats, dizziness, paleness, shortness of breath and sweating. An arrhythmia may be present all of the time or it may come and go. You may or may not feel symptoms when the arrhythmia is present. Or, you may only notice symptoms when you are more active. It is important to seek medical help and begin treatment if you develop any symptoms of a possible arrhythmia.
Your doctor may use a number of tests to diagnose heart arrhythmia, including:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG). During an ECG, sensors (electrodes) that can detect the electrical activity of the heart are attached to the chest and sometimes to the limbs. An ECG measures the timing and duration of each heartbeat.
- Holter monitor. This portable ECG device can be worn for a day or more to record heart's activity during a person’s daily routine.
- Echocardiogram. In this noninvasive test, a hand-held device (transducer) is placed on the chest and uses sound waves to produce images of the heart's size, structure and motion.
Fortunately, arrhythmias can be treated a number of ways. Factors taken into account when developing a treatment program may include the nature and severity of the arrhythmia, any underlying diseases that could affect your health, age, medical history and prescribed medications for other conditions. Treatment options include lifestyle changes, medications, electronic devices, catheter ablation and surgery.
For more information about treating abnormal heart rhythms, talk with your doctor.