Heart Arrhythmia: There are many reasons for heart arrhythmia or irregular heart rhythms. Heart rhythm difficulties are due to faulty electrical signals. The heart can beat too fast or slow. Heart flutters can be mild and can go away on their own, although there are instances where abnormal heart rhythms are concerning.
You should know the risk factors, signs, and symptoms before a deadly situation occurs. Not everyone who experiences heart fluttering needs immediate care. However, knowing the difference between a mild and life-threatening situation is essential. So, here’s your guide to heart arrhythmias.
Below is everything you need to know to feel educated and prepared.
Table of Contents
Types of Arrhythmias
Many abnormal heart rhythms are mild and temporary. These can be due to anxiety, stress, or caffeine. However, abnormal heart rhythms may contribute to heart disease or other medical conditions.
First, let’s discuss the two types of heart arrhythmias, tachycardia and bradycardia. Tachycardia is a fast heart rate greater than 100 beats per minute. Bradycardia is a slower heartbeat, at less than 60 beats per minute.
Types of tachycardia conditions include the following:
- Atrial flutter, linked to stroke
- Atrial fibrillation, temporary to serious
- Ventricular fibrillation, fast quivering signals
- Ventricular tachycardia, rapid rate, faulty ventricles
- Supraventricular tachycardia, abrupt pounding palpitations
Bradycardia occurs when your heart isn’t pumping adequate amounts of blood. Bradycardia isn’t always present in a heart condition, especially if you’re physically fit. However, bradycardia can signal the following conditions:
- Conduction block skips or slows heart
- Sick sinus syndrome, responsible for heart pace
With a conduction block, the electrical pathways cause the heart to either stop or slow down. While some may experience no warning signs, it can cause the heart to skip beats or bradycardia. Sick sinus syndrome may also cause the heart rate to change. Scarring can also develop as the heart rhythm goes between tachycardia and bradycardia.
Sometimes your heart may feel like skipping a beat, also known as a premature heartbeat. Premature heartbeats aren’t concerning and can occur even at rest. However, abnormal rhythms may trigger a longer-lasting arrhythmia, which can last many years. Over time, it can lead to a weaker heart.
Muscle contractions cause blood to pump throughout the body. The heart needs a tiny bit of electricity to contract. When it comes to irregular heart rhythms, there are many symptoms to look for before it’s too late.
Symptoms and Causes
Sometimes, abnormal heart rhythms produce a variety of symptoms. A common symptom is heart palpitations or feeling like your heart is fluttering. You also may experience pounding in your chest or skipping beats.
Other heart arrhythmia symptoms include the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Lightheadedness, dizziness
- Weakness or fatigue
Many health conditions can cause similar symptoms. For example, the heart includes four chambers. The atria consist of the two upper chambers, and the ventricles are the two lower chambers. A functioning heart needs the atria to collect and receive the blood. Then, ventricles pump blood to the body.
When abnormalities occur, irregular heart rhythms may cause the following medical conditions:
- High or low blood pressure
- Low blood sugar
- Low oxygen levels
- Sleep apnea
- Changes to heart structure
- Coronary artery disease
- Valve disorders
- Stress, anxiety
Genetics, medications, smoking, alcohol, drug abuse, and caffeine can also cause arrhythmias. Therefore, there are also concerning risk factors to keep in mind.
Concerning Risk Factors
Many risk factors can contribute to abnormal heart rhythms. Conditions that can increase heart rhythms include previous heart surgery or heart attack. In addition, having narrowed heart arteries and irregular heart valves are crucial issues to watch.
Other concerning arrhythmia risk factors include the following:
- Heart failure, damage
- Congenital heart disease
- Thyroid disease, overactive or underactive
- Electrolyte imbalances of sodium, potassium
Complications include blood clots, stroke, or death. However, if you’re on blood thinners, your stroke risk lowers.
It’s essential to tell your doctor if you have risk factors. Risks include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or high cholesterol. In addition, something may be wrong if you experience new or frequent palpitations. More than six palpitations per minute is a significant indicator.
Overall, it’s time to take action if you experience abnormal heart rhythms. If you have risk factors or medical conditions, it’s crucial.
When You Should Seek Care
You should seek care when you experience returning symptoms, discomfort, or chest pain. Making a doctor’s appointment is crucial if symptoms persist, even for mild ones.
However, seeking immediate medical attention is essential if you experience severe symptoms. Shortness of breath, dizziness, or chest pain can lead to cardiac arrest or death. For instance, ventricular fibrillation can cause a considerable blood pressure drop.
It’s vital to go to the nearest emergency room or call 911. If no one can perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, provide CPR with your hands. First, push hard and fast near the middle of the chest. A proper rate includes 100 to 120 compressions per minute until an ambulance arrives. Then, again, save rescue breathing for the professionals.
CPR ensures proper blood flow to organs until defibrillation occurs. Then, an electrical shock saves lives. If an automated external defibrillator, an AED is near, start and follow directions. The portable device delivers shocks that can restart the heart. When using an AED, the good news is that you don’t need additional training. Instead, the AED instructs you as you follow each step.
While staying vigilant regarding heart health is crucial, sometimes calling 911 can wait.
When You Can Wait
You may wait if you don’t have the typical risk factors or severe symptoms. Sometimes, waiting to see if symptoms worsen before seeking help is okay. Many times abnormal heart rhythms are temporary and go away on their own. However, potential triggers such as medication, coffee, or stress can contribute to abnormal heart rhythms.
Perhaps a simple switch such as limiting caffeine intake can help. If you’re feeling stressed, exercising can help. Meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises can benefit your health, heart, and well-being.
However, see a medical provider if you experience ongoing symptoms after removing triggers. If symptoms persist, taking immediate action is necessary. While at the hospital or doctor’s office, medical providers can monitor you. They’ll use specific tests that can diagnose heart irregularities.
Tests may include:
- Cardiac catheterization
- Stress test
- Tilt table test
Sometimes, monitoring heart rhythms over time is best to diagnose accurately. For example, in-home diagnostic testing includes a Holter monitor. A Holter monitor ranges from a day to a week and rests comfortably under your clothes. Another at-home test consists of an event monitor, which you can wear for a month or two.
While you can monitor or test for abnormal heart rhythms, prevention is also possible.
Preventing Abnormal Heart Rhythms
You can make many changes to prevent heart arrhythmias from occurring. Simple habits can reduce the chances of complications and related diseases. It’s essential to follow a heart-healthy lifestyle, which includes the following:
- Maintaining an exercise routine
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Being at a healthy weight
- Limiting caffeine, alcohol
- Saying no to smoking
- Reducing stress levels
- Using all medications as directed
Lifestyle choices are the top priority when preventing abnormal heart rhythms. Maintaining a regular exercise routine while eating a low-fat diet is crucial. In addition, a diet filled with plenty of fruits and vegetables is vital. Getting an assortment of vitamins and minerals is a great way to avoid complications.
Studies also show that adding omega-3 fatty acids may reduce cardiac risks and death. You can find these acids by eating fish two times a week. Taking fish oil supplements is also a great alternative.
Aside from lifestyle factors, it’s also helpful to monitor your pulse. While it ranges daily based on activity level, you’ll get a glimpse of your average range. From there, you can see if your pulse is within normal limits.
First, take the tip of your index and middle finger and place it on your wrist. You can also press on your lower neck. Once you feel a pulse, count the number of beats per minute, which should be between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
Overall, many lifestyle factors help prevent abnormal heart rhythms. Getting adequate movement, maintaining a nutrient-dense diet, and eliminating stressors benefit heart health.
There are many concerning signs and symptoms associated with arrhythmias. For example, slight fluttering can be a simple fix by reducing caffeine consumption. However, heart conditions due to bradycardia or tachycardia are severe. Therefore, it’s essential to take appropriate action based on symptoms. While not everyone experiences abnormal heart rhythms, awareness is the first step.
Sometimes, genetics affect heart rhythms. Other times, risk factors such as heart damage or electrolyte imbalances play a role. Although sometimes you can wait, seeking immediate medical care is vital. In addition, experiencing shortness of breath or dizziness is a cause for concern. But, overall, lifestyle factors can improve your heart and quality of life.
So, your guide to heart arrhythmias is complete. Now you can feel prepared the next time you feel concerned about your health and heart rhythms.
Author Bio for Kate Macmorn
Kate is the communications director for the American Medical Resource Institute, where they’ve trained over a million healthcare professionals to study for, earn and maintain life support certifications that allow them to better respond to cardiac emergencies. When not in the office, you can find Kate practicing her tennis skills. She also frequents live music venues and is always looking for her next creative hobby.