Heart Arrhythmia

Arrhythmia is irregular heart beat. These occur very commonly if you are growing older. Each year nearly 10 millions of Indians report this condition. Most of the cases are harmless, but few are extremely bothersome and require immediate management.

If your heart is healthy, then it must normally beat at a rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute. But in arrhythmia, you heart beats more or less than the normal count.

Types of arrhythmias

Arrhythmias are classified based on their origin and speed of the heart rate

  • Tachycardia: fast heartbeat-heartbeat greater than 100 beats per minute
  • Bradycardia: Slow heartbeat-heartbeat lesser than 60 beats per minute

There are many causes which lead to arrhythmia, that include:

  • If you have had a previous heart attack, then you might be at an increased risk of developing arrhythmia.
  • If you are an alcohol addict
  • If you have blocks in the heart
  • If you have high blood pressure
  • If your thyroid gland is under active
  • If you have a habit of smoking regularly
  • If you have a family history of arrhythmias
  • If you are under immense stress and strain.

Some of the noticeable symptoms of arrhythmias include:

  • Severe chest pain
  • Very fast heartbeat
  • Very slow heartbeat
  • Uncontrolled sweating
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • A feeling of flutter in the chest
  • Dizziness or vertigo (lightheadedness)

You must immediately call your doctor if you feel a racing heartbeat or a too-slow heartbeat. Other signs of improper heart pumping would include weakness, dizziness, fainting, chest discomfort or pain. In such instances, it is of utmost importance to seek the medical assistance.

Certain arrhythmias increase your risk of developing conditions such as stroke and heart failure.

For diagnosing heart arrhythmia, your doctor would review your symptoms and your medical history, and perform a keen physical examination. The following tests may be ordered:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): this test helps in the detection of the electrical activity of your heart. ECG is helpful in the measurement of the duration of each electrical phase of the heartbeat.
  • Holter monitor: Holter monitor is a device that helps in recording your heart’s activity while you are on your routine day.
  • Event monitor: this device is particularly used for monitoring the symptoms of sporadic arrhythmias. The ECG device is attached to your body, and when you have the symptoms, the sensors would let the doctor be aware and lets the doctor monitor your heart rhythm.
  • Echocardiogram: this test is a noninvasive one, in this test a hand-held device is placed on your chest, which helps in producing the images of your heart’s size, structure and motion, based on the sound waves produced by the heart.
  • Implantable loop recorder: this device is implanted in the chest area, it helps detect the abnormal heart rhythms.

If there is no evidence of arrhythmia by the above tests, then your doctor would order for other tests that would trigger your arrhythmia, these tests include:

Stress test: In stress test, you will be asked to stress your body by performing any exercise; this is because some arrhythmias are triggered by exercise.

Tilt table test: this test is recommended if you have had fainting spells. Your blood pressure (BP) and heart rate are monitored as you lie flat on a table. The angle of the table is then shifted to check the heart and nervous system’s response.

Electrophysiological testing and mapping: this test helps in mapping the spread of the electrical impulses through your heart. This technique is performed with the use of electrodes.

Treatment may or may not be necessary if you are diagnosed with heart arrhythmia. The treatment will be needed if the symptoms are bothersome or if the condition is putting you at risk of developing any other more severe complications.

Bradycardia (slow heartbeat)

The treatment for the slow heartbeat is with the help of a pacemaker because there are no medications that make you heart beat fast.

A pace maker sends the electrical impulses out and stimulate your heart to beat at a constant rate.

Tachycardia (fast heartbeat)

For rapid heartbeat, the treatment choices would include:

Vagal maneuvers: for stopping the arrhythmias that begin above the lower half of the heart, you can use certain maneuvers such as holding the breath, and straining, dunking the face in cold water or coughing. These maneuvers trigger the nervous system that controls your heartbeat, making your heart to beat slowly.

Medications: for treating fast heartbeat, your doctor would prescribe anti-arrhythmic medications that restore the normal heart rhythm.

Cardioversion: Cardioversion is particularly used if you have atrial fibrillation. This treatment option helps in the restoration of your normal heartbeat.

Catheter ablation: this procedure involves blocking of the electrical pathway that is causing your arrhythmia.

Implantable devices: A pacemaker helps in controlling the abnormal heart rhythms.

Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD): your doctor recommends an ICD if you are at a higher risk of developing an irregular heartbeat.

Maze procedure: Your surgeon makes a series of surgical incisions in the heart tissue to create a scar tissue. This tissue does not conduct electricity; it interferes with the stray electrical impulses which are responsible for causing some types of arrhythmias.

Coronary bypass surgery: Your doctor may recommend coronary bypass surgery if you have severe coronary artery disease in addition to arrhythmias.