Heart arrhythmias are very common and many are harmless. Nearly everyone will experience an abnormal heart rhythm at one time or another. It may feel like your heart is skipping, pounding, racing or fluttering. But some arrhythmias are problematic or serious. Some arrhythmia effect quality of life and some of them are life threatening or even fatal. Heart arrhythmia treatment can often control or eliminate the fast or irregular heartbeats. You may be able to reduce your arrhythmia risk by adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle.
To understand arrhythmias, it helps to understand the heart’s internal electrical system. The heart’s electrical system controls the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat. With each heartbeat, an electrical signal spreads from the top of the heart to the bottom. As the signal travels, it causes the heart muscle to contract and pump blood. Each electrical signal begins in a group of cells called the sinus node or sinoatrial (SA) node. The SA node is located in the wall of heart’s upper right chamber, the right atrium. In a healthy adult heart at rest, the SA node fires off regular electrical signal at rate about 60 to 100 times a minute.
From the SA node, the electrical signal travels through special pathways in the right and left atria (upper chambers). This causes the atria to contract and pump blood into the heart’s two lower chambers, the ventricles. The electrical signal then moves down to a group of cells called the atrioventricular (AV) node, located between the atria and the ventricles. Here, the signal slows down just a little, allowing the ventricles time to finish filling with blood.
The electrical signal then leaves the AV node and travels along a pathway called the bundle of His. This pathway divides into a right bundle branch and a left bundle branch. The signal goes down these branches to the ventricles, causing them to contract and pump blood to the lungs and the rest of the body.
The ventricles then relax, and the heartbeat process starts all over again in the SA node. A new cycle begins.
What are the symptoms of an arrhythmia?
An arrhythmia may be “silent” and not cause any symptoms. A doctor can detect an irregular heartbeat during an examination by taking your pulse, listening to your heart or by performing diagnostic tests. If symptoms occur, they may include:
- Palpitations: A feeling of skipped heartbeats, fluttering, “flip-flops” or feeling that the heart is “running away”
- Pounding in the chest
- Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
- Shortness of breath
- Chest discomfort
- Weakness or fatigue (feeling very tired)
- Holter monitor, or event monitor
- Stress test
- Electrophysiology study (EPS)
- Head-up tilt table test
Treatment depends on the type and severity of your arrhythmia. In some cases, no treatment is necessary. Treatment options include medications, lifestyle changes and undergoing specific prcedures.
- Lifestyle changes
- Electrical Cardioversion
- Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator (ICD)
- Catheler Ablation