A-Fib? Irregular heartbeat?
Our experts are here to help!
Just about everyone experiences a skipped or extra beat now and again.
And the symptoms that may accompany such an event, including palpitations
or dizziness, don't necessarily indicated the severity of the problem.
The heart is resilient. Yet the balance between the heart's electrical
impulses, muscle contraction and blood flow is complex. Coronary artery
disease, structural defects and other conditions can bring about an irregular
heartbeat. Cardiac arrhythmias can make it difficult to enjoy life fully
and can lead to heart attack, heart failure or sudden cardiac death.
Physicians who specialize in the treatment of cardiac rhythm disorders
are called electrophysiologists. Symptoms of cardiac arrhythmias include:
- Palpitations - described as missed beats, skips, thumps, butterflies, fluttering
- Dizziness - typically expressed as a sensation of falling rather than a
sensation of spinning.
- Fainting or syncope - complete loss of consciousness with falling or physical collapse.
- Chest pain - often caused by the heart muscle growing tired after an extended
period of rapid beating.
- Shortness of breath - the feeling of not being able to catch your breath.
Treatment for cardiac rhythm disorders
Treatment options for cardiac rhythm disorders vary based upon the type
of arrhythmia. The course of treatment may include:
- Watchful waiting and monitoring
- Medications to control heart rate/rhythm
- Medications to reduce stroke risk
- Cardioversion (a procedure that can return the heart to normal rhythm)
- Ablation (a procedure to disrupt the abnormal electrical pathways in the
heart that cause the rhythm disturbance)
- Pacemaker or implantable defibrillator
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Abnormal heartbeat, heart arrhythmia, rhythm disorders
In most people, the heart beats regularly, between 50 and 100 beats per
minute. Your heart rate will increase with exercise or stress. Some medications
may cause your heart to beat faster. You can usually feel your heart beat
by placing two fingers on the wrist, at the pulse point.
Occasionally, the heart may “skip” a beat, or seem to be out
of rhythm. This is common and not necessarily something to panic about.
However, if you experience unusual heart rhythm, it is definitely something
to talk to your doctor or a cardiologist about. Symptoms of an abnormal
heart rhythm include palpitations (a thumping or fluttering sensation),
dizziness, breathlessness and feeling tired. Fainting may also occur.
Atrial fibrillation, also called Afib, is caused by abnormal electrical pathways in the heart,
which cause the heart to contract in a disorganized way. Atrial fibrillation
is the most common heart rhythm disorder, affecting up to 6 million Americans,
according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is
more common in people over the age of 65. Some people with Afib have no
symptoms; others experience racing heartbeat, extreme fatigue, shortness
of breath, chest pain, and dizziness. Afib can be treated with medications
to control rate and rhythm. Sometimes, the heart can be “shocked”
back into normal rhythm. Some patients benefit from a procedure called
an ablation, in which the doctor destroys the abnormal electrical pathway.
A surgical procedure, called a maze, can also be performed to treat the
condition. Some patients benefit from both procedures. One of the major
risks of Afib is the development of blood clots in the heart, which can
travel to other parts of the body and cause serious, even life-threatening, damage.
Atrial Flutter is similar to atrial fibrillation, in that it causes the upper chambers
of the heart to beat too fast and out of sync with the lower chambers.
In atrial flutter, the upper chambers beat in a regular pattern. In Afib,
the upper chambers beat too fast without a regular pattern. Symptoms of
atrial flutter include heart palpitations, fast, steady pulse, shortness
of breath, fatigue, pain or discomfort in the chest, dizziness, lightheadedness
Slow heartbeat / bradycardia
Bradycardia occurs when the adult heart rate is less than 60 beats per minute. Some
physically active adults, including athletes, may have a normal heart
rate less than 60 beats per minute. Further, your heart rate may drop
below 60 bpm during sleep, meditation or rest. A heart rate that is too
slow can cause insufficient blood flow to the brain. Symptoms include
fatigue or tiredness; dizziness; loss of consciousness; shortness of breath;
confusion; difficulty in exercising or carrying out day-to-day activities.
Untreated bradycardia can lead to heart failure, low blood pressure, chest
pain, and fainting. Treatment may include medications and/or the use of
Ventricular Tachycardia, or V-tach occurs when the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles) beat too
fast. It is caused by abnormal electrical signals. In ventricular tachycardia,
these signals can cause the lower chambers to beat out of sync with the
upper chambers at 100 beats per minute or more. This makes it difficult
for your heart to pump enough blood to the body to meet its needs. Episodes
of V-tach can be brief or extended. Symptoms include dizziness, lightheadedness,
palpitations and fainting. V-tach can cause your heart to suddenly stop
beating, called sudden cardiac death. Treatment may include an implantable
cardioverter defibrillator which can automatically detect V-tach and deliver
a shock to the heart to return it to normal rhythm.