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Arrhythmia

The heart is a pump that functions by pushing the blood through its four chambers. The blood is "pushed" through in a controlled sequence of muscular contractions. The sequence is controlled by bundles of cells which control the electrical activity of the heart. When the sequence is disturbed, heart arrhythmias occur.

What is an Arrhythmia?

Arrhythmias are abnormal rhythms of the heart.  Arrhythmias cause the heart to pump blood less effectively.  Most cardiac arrhythmias are temporary and benign.  Most temporary and benign arrhythmias are those where your heart skips a beat or has an extra beat. The occasional skip or extra beat is often caused by strong emotions or exercise. Nonetheless, some arrhythmias may be life-threatening and require treatment.

Types of Arrhythmias

Arrhythmias can be divided into two main categories ventricular and supraventricular.  Supraventricular arrhythmias occur in the heart's two upper chambers called the atrium.  Ventricular arrhythmias occur in the heart's two lower chambers called the ventricles. 

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Supraventricular and Ventricular arrhythmias are further defined by the speed of the heartbeats: very slow, very fast and fast uncoordinated.  A very slow heart rate is called bradycardia.  In bradycardia, the heart rate is less than 60 beats per minute. A very fast heart rate is called Tachycardia meaning the heart beats faster than 100 beats per minute. A fast uncoordinated heart rate is called Fibrillation.  Fibrillation is the most serious form of arrhythmia are contractions of individual heart muscle fibers.  Arrhythmias cause nearly 250,000 deaths each year.

Supraventricular Arrhythmia

A very common long term arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is very abnormal.  A normal heart beats between 60 and 100 times a minute. However, in atrial fibrillation, the atria (upper lobes of the heart) beat 400 to 600 times per minute. In response to this, the ventricles usually beat irregularly at a rate of 170 to 200 times per minute. So in Atrial Fibrillation, the upper part of the heart may beat up to 8 times as much as a normal heart.  Unfortunately, atrial fibrillation is seen in many types of heart disease; once established, it usually lasts a lifetime. 

Ventricular Arrhythmia

One of the most serious arrhythmias is sustained ventricular tachycardia. In sustained ventricular tachycardia, there are consecutive impulses that arise from the ventricles at a heart rate of 100 beats or more per minute until stopped by drug treatment or electrical conversion. This condition is very dangerous.  It is dangerous because it may degenerate further into a totally disorganized electrical activity known as ventricular fibrillation. In ventricular fibrillation, heart's action is so disorganized that it quivers and does not contract, thus failing to pump blood. 

Symptoms of Arrhythmia

The most common symptoms of arrhythmia are:

  • palpitations or rapid thumping in your chest
  • feeling tired or light-headed
  • loosing consciousness
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain.

Symptoms of bradycardia:

  • feeling tired
  • short of breath
  • dizziness

Symptoms of tachycardia:

  • heartbeat might feel like a strong pulse in your neck
  • a fluttering, racing beat in your chest
  • feelings of discomfort
  • weakness
  • shortness breath
  • faint
  • sweaty
  • dizzy

What Causes Arrhythmia?

Many types of heart disease cause arrhythmia.  Coronary disease is often a trigger.  It triggers arrhythmia because coronary heart disease produces scar tissue in the heart.  This scar tissue disrupts the transmission of signals which control the heart rhythm.  Some people are born with arrhythmias, meaning the condition is congenital. Atherosclerosis is also a factor in causing arrhythmia. Other medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure also are factors. Furthermore,  stress, caffeine, smoking, alcohol, and some over-the-counter cough and cold medicines can affect your heart's natural beating pattern.

How is Arrhythmia diagnosed?

Can Arrhythmia be treated? 

Treatment of arrhythmia depend on the type of arrhythmia, the patients age, physical condition and age.  Methods are available for prevention of arrhythmia.  These methods include relaxation techniques to reduce stress, limit intake of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and stimulant drugs. Many arrhythmias require no treatment, they are naturally controlled by the body’s immune system. However if it is  necessary that arrhythmias must be controlled, they can be controlled by drugs, Cardioversion, Automatic implantable defibrillators or an Artificial pacemaker. Arrhythmias are very serious.

Arrhythmias that start in the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles) are more serious than those that start in the upper chambers (the atria).

Arrhythmia Statistics

  • As many as 2 million Americans are living with atrial fibrillation, a type of arrhythmia.
  • During a 24-hour period about 20% of healthy adults are likely to have multiple types of premature ventricular beats.

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