An arrhythmia is a condition in which the heart is not beating in a normal rhythm. An arrhythmia is a symptom of a wide variety of diseases, disorders and conditions that cause the heart to beat in way that is irregular, too rapid (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia) and/or not at all (asystole). There are many types of arrhythmias, which can be mild to severe to life-threatening. Arrhythmia is also known as cardiac arrhythmia.
The rhythm of the heartbeat is controlled by the electrical conduction system of the heart. A healthy electrical conduction system causes the chambers of the heart to contract and pump blood in a steady efficient manner that maintains a normal blood pressure and good blood circulation. An arrhythmia can result when the electrical conduction system is damaged or stimulated abnormally due to certain diseases and disorders, such as heart disease or hyperthyroidism. Some athletes can develop an arrhythmia called athletic bradycardia, which is generally benign and a sign of athletic training.
An arrhythmia can occur in any age group or population, but people most at risk include those who have a history of heart valve disorders, cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure and hypothyroidism. Other conditions that can result in an arrhythmia include electrolyte imbalance, smoking, excessive exercise, alcoholism and drinking too much caffeine. Arrhythmias can also be a side effect of stimulant drugs, such as certain diet drugs, and some street drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine.
An arrhythmia can be acute and appear relatively suddenly, such as the rapid arrhythmia that occurs with paroxysmal ventricular tachycardia (PSVT). Arrhythmia can also be ongoing and chronic, such as when an elderly person develops chronic atrial fibrillation.
Other potentially serious types of arrhythmias include paroxysmal atrial tachycardia, atrial flutter and second degree heart block. Quickly life-threatening arrhythmias include ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation, which can lead to cardiac arrest. In cardiac arrest the heart has stopped beating or is beating too inefficiently to sustain life.
Symptoms of an arrhythmia can include chest pain and palpitations. Complications of an arrhythmia can be life-threatening. For more details about symptoms and complications, see symptoms of arrhythmia.
Diagnosing an arrhythmia and its root cause begins with taking a thorough personal and family medical history, including symptoms, and completing a physical examination. Diagnostic testing includes an EKG, which creates a picture of the heart's electrical activity and rhythm. A longer-term portable telemetry EKG device may also be worn. Other tests may include a chest X-ray, echocardiogram and blood cardiac assay tests, which can help identify damage to the heart.
A diagnosis of an arrhythmia and its underlying cause can easily be delayed or missed because some people may be unaware that they have an arrhythmia. In addition, symptoms of an arrhythmia can be similar to symptoms of other disorders and conditions. For information about misdiagnosis and other disorders and conditions that can mimic an arrhythmia, refer to misdiagnosis of arrhythmia.
Treatment of an arrhythmia varies depending on the specific type of arrhythmia, the underlying cause, coexisting diseases and other factors. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of arrhythmia. ...more »
An arrhythmia is a disorder of the heart's beating rhythm.
When it causes a noticable change in the sound of a beat,
when heard by a doctor's stethoscope,
it is often called a "heart murmur".
There are various different types of arrhythmias
ranging from almost harmless to very serious.
Correct diagnosis of the specific subtype and
any underlying condition is extremely important. ...more »
The symptoms of an arrhythmia differ depending on the specific type and severity of the disorder. Symptoms can include anxiety, palpitations, chest pan, shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting or syncope and angina. Symptoms can also include seizures, hypotension, weak pulse, absent pulse, labored breathing and loss of breathing (apnea).
Certain ...more symptoms »
The first step in treating an arrhythmia is prevention. This includes not smoking, not using illegal drugs or abusing prescription stimulant medications, and moderating caffeine and alcohol intake.
Once an arrhythmia develops, a treatment plan is individualized to the underlying cause, the presence of coexisting diseases, the age and general ...more treatments »
Diagnosing an arrhythmia and its cause may be delayed or missed because in some cases the symptoms may not be severe or bothersome enough for a person to seek medical care. Some people may be unaware that they are experiencing symptoms of an arrhythmia. In addition, some symptoms of arrhythmia, such as palpitations and lightheadedness are similar to symptoms of other conditions. These include ...more misdiagnosis »
Symptoms of Arrhythmias
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Misdiagnosis and Arrhythmias
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there are varying degrees of severity.
It is altogether too common for...read more »
Heart attacks can be overdiagnosed: Although many people die from heart attacks, there are also
many cases where people fear that they have a...read more »
Rare heart condition often undiagnosed: The rare heart condition called long QT syndrome can lead to episodes of palpitations
and rapid heartbeat.
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It...read more »
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leading to fatality, it can also be over-diagnosed.
People become concerned that a condition is a heart...read more »
Blood pressure cuffs misdiagnose hypertension in children: One known misdiagnosis issue
with hyperension, arises in relation to the simple equipment used to test blood pressure...read more »
Hypertension misdiagnosis common in children: Hypertension is often
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Prognosis for Arrhythmias:
Good. Rhythm disorders without underlying heart disease are common.
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Article Excerpts about Arrhythmias
NHLBI, Arrhythmia: NHLBI (Excerpt)
An arrhythmia is a change in the regular
beat of the heart. The heart may seem to skip a beat or beat irregularly or very
fast or very slowly.
(Source: excerpt from NHLBI, Arrhythmia: NHLBI)
HEART AND CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE: NWHIC (Excerpt)
Most people have felt their heart beat very fast, felt a fluttering in
their chest, or noticed that their heart skipped a beat. Almost everyone
has also felt dizzy, faint, or out of breath or had chest pains at one
time or another. While these experiences of heart arrhythmias (a
change in the regular beat of the heart) can create anxiety, they are, for
most people, harmless. As adults age, they are more likely to get
arrhythmias. Only a very small number of people have arrhythmias that are
dangerous. Donít panic if you have a few flutters or your heart races once
in a while. If you have questions about your heart rhythm or symptoms,
talk with your health care provider. (Source: excerpt from HEART AND CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE: NWHIC)
Definitions of Arrhythmias:
An abnormal rate of muscle contractions in the heart.
- (Source - Diseases Database)
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