Heart Disease and Abnormal Heart Rhythm (Arrhythmia)
Arrhythmia is a disorder characterized by abnormal heart beat such as beating too fast, too slow or irregularly. During arrhythmia, as the heart is not able to pump enough blood to the body, it can lead to organ dysfunction or damage. Most arrhythmias are harmless; however, some are more serious and life-threatening.
Physiology of the Heartbeat
The heart is a strong, muscular pump that pumps blood across the body. When your heart beats, the electrical impulses that coordinate your heartbeats usually follow a precise pathway through the heart. Any disruption in these impulses can result in arrhythmia.
Types of Arrhythmias
There are different types of arrhythmias. Arrhythmias are classified by where they originate (atria or ventricles) and the speed of heart rate.
- Atrial fibrillation: irregular contraction of upper heart chambers
- Bradycardia: slow heart beat
- Conduction disorders: abnormal heart beat
- Premature contraction: early heart beat
- Tachycardia: fast heart beat
- Ventricular fibrillation: irregular contraction of lower heart chambers
A heart attack or other conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart failure, an overactive or underactive thyroid gland, and congenital heart defects that damages the heart's electrical system can cause arrhythmias.
Smoking, excess consumption of caffeine or alcohol, high stress, and certain medications can also lead to arrhythmias.
Symptoms of arrhythmia can range from mild to severe. Some of these symptoms can go unnoticed, but those that show up include:
- Chest pain
- Light-headedness, dizziness or fainting
- Shortness of breath
To diagnose a heart arrhythmia, your doctor will collect detailed information about your family’s medical history, medications, health problems, and health habits. Your doctor may also carry out a physical examination, during which the doctor will listen to your heart and check your pulse to measure your heart rhythm and heart rate.
Your doctor may order other tests such as:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG): a painless test that detects and records your heart’s electrical activity
- Holter monitor: a portable machine that records your hearts activity over a 24-hour period
- Coronary angiography: a procedure which uses a special dye and X-rays to view the pattern of flow of blood to the heart
- Chest x-ray to check for heart enlargement
- Blood tests to measure blood levels of potassium and thyroid hormone
- Echocardiography to view the size, structure and movement of the heart
- Stress test to determine irregular heart rhythms during exercise
- Electrophysiology study (EPS), where wire electrodes are placed in the heart to measure the electrical activity
Arrhythmia can be treated with medications, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) or pacemaker, or sometimes surgery to restore a normal heart beat.
Catheter ablation: It is a procedure that uses radiofrequency energy to destroy abnormal heart tissue that is causing your heart rhythm problems.