Arrhythmia – also known as dysrhythmia – is an irregular or abnormal heartbeat. Many arrhythmias are asymptomatic (causing no symptoms) and do not require treatment. Other arrhythmias could be indicative of a cardiovascular health problem. Arrhythmias are typically classified in the following way:
- Tachycardia: fast heart rhythm of 100 BPM or more.
- Bradycardia: slow heart rhythm of 60 BPM or less.
- Bradyarrhythmia: slow heart rhythm caused by a disease of the heart’s electrical conduction system.
- Supraventricular arrhythmia: begins above the heart’s lower ventricles. Atrial fibrillation – the most common serious arrhythmia – is a supraventricular arrhythmia.
- Ventricular arrhythmia: begins in the heart’s lower ventricles.
Dysrhythmia can be caused by a number of outside factors. In some patients, the arrhythmia is present at birth with no ascertainable cause. Common causes include the use of:
- Cold Medicine / Decongestants
- Diet Pills
Some arrhythmias are caused by an electrolyte imbalance in the blood (fluctuation in sodium or potassium levels). Other arrhythmias can develop after a heart attack or heart surgery. Lastly, some health conditions, such as hypertension and hyperthyroidism, have also been linked to heart arrhythmia.
Symptoms of Arrhythmia
Symptoms of heart arrhythmia can vary widely. While some patients may have a silent arrhythmia and experience no symptoms at all, other patients may experience:
- Heart palpitations (e.g. fluttering, flip-flopping, skipped beats)
- Pounding in the chest
- General chest discomfort
- Chronic weakness or fatigue – especially after exertion
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness / lightheadedness
Arrhythmia Risk Factors
Serious arrhythmias typically affect individuals over the age of 60. This is due, in part, to natural aging of the heart, as well as the fact that older patients are more likely to have heart disease and other cardiovascular health problems. Individuals who have (or have had) any of the following health issues are more likely to have an arrhythmia:
- Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
- Cardiomyopathy and heart failure
- Thickened tissue in the heart, including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
- Malfunctioning heart valves (leaky or narrowed)
- Congenital heart defects
Other, lesser conditions that can increase risk for arrhythmia include hypertension, sleep apnea, over- or underactive thyroid, and diabetes.
Diagnosing Heart Arrhythmias
Cardiologists at Phoenix Heart Center use advanced imaging equipment as a part of the heart arrhythmia diagnostic process. Heart activity and blood flow may be observed in one or more of the following tests:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
- Electrophysiology study (EPS)
Other tests include:
- Holter & Event Monitors
- Stress Test / Treadmill Testing
- Tilt Table Test
- Blood Tests
At Phoenix Heart Center, cardiologists have decades of private practice experience in diagnosing and treating abnormal heart rhythms. Learn more about these diagnostic services.
Preventing & Managing Arrhythmia
Not all arrhythmias can be prevented. However, there are a few things you can do to improve your overall heart health:
- Live an active lifestyle. Exercise for at least thirty minutes, six days a week.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Maintain good blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Lose excess weight.
- Monitor blood sugar.
- Quit smoking.
- Limit (or avoid) alcohol.
Many people diagnosed with a cardiac arrhythmia are able to live normal, healthy lives. In addition to making recommended lifestyle changes, patients with arrhythmias should manage their condition by:
- Scheduling appointments and routine follow-up care with their primary care provider and cardiologist.
- Taking prescribed medicines.
- Learning what over-the-counter drugs (such as decongestants or diet pills) might worsen their condition.
- Informing their doctor of any drug side effects or changes in symptoms.
Treating Heart Arrhythmias
Many kinds of tachycardia (fast heart rate) can be treated with drugs. Atrial fibrillation, for example, may be treated with antiarrhythmic medication, beta blockers, digoxin, and calcium channel blockers. Bradycardia (slow heart rate) cannot be reliably treated with medication. Patients with this condition may be given a pacemaker to monitor and control heart rate.
It is often the case that an arrhythmia is caused by an underlying cardiovascular health issue. A number of interventional cardiology procedures may be able to improve heart health and reduce symptoms of arrhythmia. Learn more about the interventional services at Phoenix Heart Center.
For more information about diagnosing and treating heart arrhythmias, contact a Phoenix Heart Center practice location convenient to you. Now serving Central Phoenix, East Mesa, and Tempe. You can also schedule an appointment online.