What is an Arrhythmia?

A male doctor listens to the heartbeat of a senior male patient.An arrhythmia is a disorder of the heart rhythm, beating too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia), or irregularly. The heart muscles pumping action of contraction and relaxation is regulated by a unique system called the heart’s electrical system.  Arrhythmias are caused when the electrical system of the heart isn't working properly. The most common type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation also known as AFib, where the heart rhythm is too fast, too slow or skips a beat.  Left untreated, AFib can lead to serious illness and is the leading cause of stroke.

Some common causes of abnormal heartbeats are:

  • Abnormal levels of potassium or other substances
  • Heart attack, or a damaged heart muscle from a past heart attack
  • Heart disease that is present at birth (congenital)
  • Heart failure, enlarged heart or overactive thyroid gland

In some cases, arrhythmias may also be caused by some substances or drugs.

Suspect you or someone you love has a heart rhythm disorder? For a referral to a cardiac specialist, call us at (855) 233-0888 for a physician referral or fill out the form to request a referral.

What are the symptoms of an arrhythmia?

Symptoms of an arrhythmia include a heartbeat that may be too slow (bradycardia), too quick (tachycardia), regular, uneven, or skipping beats. An arrhythmia may be present all of the time or it may come and go.  You may or may not feel symptoms when the arrhythmia is present or you may only notice symptoms when you are more active.  Symptoms can be very mild, or they may be severe or even life-threatening. Common symptoms that may occur when the arrhythmia is present include:

  • Chest pain
  • Paleness
  • Sweating
  • Fainting, light-headedness, or dizziness
  • Shortness of breath

If you experiencing these symptoms, it’s important that you talk to a primary care physician. If you do not have one, find a primary care doctor now.

Treatment Options

Medications called anti-arrhythmic drugs may be used to keep your heart rate from becoming too fast or too slow and prevent an arrhythmia from happening again. Some of these medicines can have side effects. Take them as prescribed by your health care provider. Do not stop taking the medicine or change the dose without first talking to your health care provider.

Advanced Treatment Options

When medication is not enough or when an arrhythmia is serious, you may need urgent treatment to restore a normal rhythm. This may include:

  • Cardiac ablation used to destroy areas in your heart that may be causing your heart rhythm problems
  • An implantable cardiac defibrillator is a device implanted near your heart to prevent heart attacks placed in people who are at high risk of sudden cardiac death
  • Pacemaker, (including conventional single chamber device as well as the Medtronic Micra Transcatheter Pacing System), a device that senses when your heart is beating irregularly, too slowly, or too fast. It sends a signal to your heart that makes your heart beat at the correct pace.
  • Radiofrequency ablation, also known as a catheter ablation, to control atrial fibrillation (a fast heartbeat) and other heart rhythm irregularities
  • Cryoablation, a process that uses extreme cold to destroy the heart tissue causing atrial fibrillation
  • Hybrid Ablation (also referred to as the Convergent procedure), is a minimally invasive hybrid procedure that combines both catheterization and electrophysiology

If you have been taking medication for an arrhythmia and are considering some of these alternative options, talk to your physician. The following BayCare hospitals offer arrhythmia treatments:

Need a cardiac electrophysiologist or other cardiac specialist? Call us at (855) 233-0888 for a physician referral or fill out the form to request a referral to a cardiac specialist.

Request a Physician Referral