Today’s article is on a common heart condition – arrhythmia, which is related to the rate or rhythm at which the human heart beats.
Having arrhythmia is like your heart is racing away or slowing down although slowing down is harder to detect. Arrhythmia is common and usually harmless in most cases.
Arrhythmia in general, may not have any outward symptoms, but common signs of arrhythmia can include:
- irregular heartbeat, i.e., a feeling when your heart either skips a beat or beats rapidly
- slow heartbeat
- rapid heartbeat
Severe cases of arrhythmia will affect blood flow and can damage the following organs:
- other vital organs, i.e., heart, kidneys, liver
Types of arrhythmia
Arrhythmia happens when the electrical impulses that regulate heartbeats malfunction (similar to short-circuiting), causing the heart to beat either:
- too slow (bradycardia)
- too fast (tachycardia)
- too erratically (fibrillation), or
- too early (premature contraction)
Here are some forms of arrhythmia:
- Sinus arrhythmia – the rhythm of your heartbeat comes from electrical impulses sent by the sinus node. Sinus arrhythmia is when the sinus node malfunctions and sends the electrical impulses too slowly or too fast, making your heart beat (or pump blood) irregularly.
There are 2 types of sinus arrhythmia:
sinus tachycardia – heartrate rises to >100 beats per minute, or
sinus bradycardia – heartrate slows to <60 beats per minute
- Ventricular arrhythmia –begins in the ventricles, i.e., the lower heart chambers. Here again there are 2 types of ventricular arrhythmia:
ventricular tachycardia (VT) – occurs in people who have heart related issues like coronary artery disease or a heart attack. It can cause the heartrate to jump to 170 beats per minute or higher. Note that VT lasting more than a few seconds can lead to ventricular fibrillation, which is dangerous.
ventricular fibrillation (VF) – sudden, irregular and rapid heartbeats in the ventricle caused by the erratic electrical impulses which are sometimes triggered by a heart attack. The ventricles quiver and can’t pump blood leading into the body and there is a sudden drop in heartrate.
VF can cause sudden cardiac arrest and can be fatal without immediate medical treatment.
- Atrial arrhythmia – begins in the atrium, i.e., upper heart chambers. They include:
supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) – identified by a sudden burst of rapid heartbeats that end as suddenly as they begin. SVT may cause a heartrate of >160 beats per minute. SVT can be categorized further:
atrial fibrillation (AF or AFib) – where your atria fibrillate or quiver raising your heart rate as fast as 400 beats per minute. People 65years and older are at higher risk of AFib, which if left untreated, can lead to a stroke.
atrial flutter (AFI) – the difference here is that though beating very rapidly, the heart beats more rhythmic than AF, and it is less common than AF. Symptoms of AFI often show up soon after heart surgery.
Both AF and AFI are dangerous and can be fatal if not treated quickly.
Consult a doctor if you feel you have any of the above signs, as there may be an undiagnosed cause for this to happen. Look out for other signs such as:
- chest pain
- dizziness / lightheadedness
- fainting or near-fainting spells
- weakness and fatigue
If anyone displays these signs, immediately rush the person to the nearest medical facility for treatment. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
Treatment options for arrhythmia
Depending on your condition, a cardiologist may start you on medication and will explain the use of common medication such as antiarrhythmic medication, calcium channel blockers, beta-blockers or anticoagulants.
If medication does not help with your arrhythmia, there are minor surgical procedures with implantable devices which cardiologists may suggest based again on your condition, namely catheter ablation, a pacemaker or ICD.
Do note that failure to have arrhythmia diagnosed and treated can lead to life threatening situations and even death.
The purpose of this article is to provide a general overview on arrhythmia, and the contents should in no way be taken as medical advice. Readers should always consult a doctor or cardiologist for proper medical advice.
27th August 20:30 2020