Arrhythmia refers to an abnormal heartbeat pattern. Your heart may beat too fast, too slow or irregularly.
Arrhythmias can feel like a fluttering or racing heart, and they are often not a cause for worry. Usually treatment is required only if the arrhythmia causes symptoms or puts you at risk for more serious problems such as heart disease, stroke or sudden cardiac death.
The good news is that arrhythmia treatment can often control or eliminate irregular heartbeats. In addition, because arrhythmias can be caused or aggravated by a weak or damaged heart, you may be able to reduce your arrhythmia risk by adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle.
This section provides a guide on what arrhythmias are and what causes them. If you are concerned that you might be suffering from arrhythmias, you can find information about common arrhythmia symptoms and how arrhythmias are diagnosed.
If you have been diagnosed with having arrhythmia, there is a section dedicated to the treatment options available for this condition.
Arrhythmias may cause a range of symptoms. These can include:
Many of these symptoms can be confused with the effects of aging or with other diseases affecting the heart. However, seek urgent medical care if you suddenly or frequently experience any of these signs and symptoms at a time when you wouldn't expect to feel them.
According to Harvard Health , a regular adult heart beats at a rate of 60 to 100 times per minute. An arrhythmia is a disorder that affects the heart rate, causing your heart to beat too fast, too slow or irregularly. Arrhythmias can affect the amount of blood pumped by the heart.
The beating of the heart is controlled by electrical impulses that normally travel on a smooth path through the heart, causing the various chambers of the heart to contract in a specific order, pushing blood through the lungs and body. These electrical impulses are controlled by the heart's sinus node, which acts as the heart's natural pacemaker.
Although many arrhythmias are harmless, they can cause troublesome symptoms such as dizziness or chest discomfort. Other, more dangerous arrhythmias can impact blood supply and if left untreated, may eventually lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, or sudden death.
The American Heart Association lists a variety of conditions and triggers, ranging from heart disease to specific substances, which can cause arrhythmias. These include:
To diagnose an arrhythmia, your doctor may review your family history of heart disease and your personal medical history to look for possible risk factors for arrhythmia, such as heart conditions, thyroid problems or certain medications. Your doctor may also perform any of the following tests, specific to arrhythmias:
If you have an arrhythmia, treatment may or may not be necessary. Usually it's required only if the arrhythmia is clinically significant – that is, it causes symptoms or puts you at risk for more serious arrhythmias or complications of arrhythmias in the future. A variety of approaches can be taken in treating and managing arrhythmias including:
Not all arrhythmias can be prevented. Arrhythmias that are caused by coronary heart disease may be prevented by lifestyle changes that lessen coronary heart disease risk factors. Broadly, these are:
For more details on preventing arrhythmias associated with coronary heart disease, see Coronary Heart Disease Prevention.
Certain substances and drugs are also known to contribute to arrhythmias. Avoiding the consumption of these substances or reducing the dosage of problem medication can help reduce arrhythmias. The American Heart Association provides a detailed list of these substances:
If you're being treated for arrhythmia and use any of these substances, be sure to discuss this with your doctor.