8 Things to Know About Heart Arrhythmias

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Mark Bochkis on November 25, 2021
  • woman with chest pain
    What You Need to Know About Arrhythmias
    Have you ever felt your heart beat fast or particularly hard? Did your heart ever skip a beat? If it has, then you know what an arrhythmia feels like. The shortest definition of arrhythmia is: an irregular heartbeat. It’s natural to feel some anxiety when you put the word “irregular” together with “heart.” However, an irregular heartbeat is not always a cause for concern. In fact, most abnormal heart rhythms have no impact on your health. There are many reasons and causes for arrhythmias, and lots of detailed information about each. For some quick help, we’ve pared down the medical encyclopedia to these eight must-know facts.
  • Young woman with chest pain
    1. Not all arrhythmias are harmful.
    Most arrhythmias are harmless and are not a cause for alarm. A healthy heart can experience arrhythmias as a result of a spirited workout, an extreme emotional reaction (fright or shock), or a response to stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and certain drugs and medications. However, some arrhythmias occur when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions and causes the heart to beat too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia), or irregularly. Persistent or recurrent arrhythmias are a sign of a potential underlying heart problem and should be checked out by a doctor.
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    2. You may or may not feel any symptoms of an arrhythmia.
    A lot of arrhythmias are discovered during routine doctor visits. This happens because, in many cases, the effects of an abnormal heart rhythm are just too faint to notice. No need to panic, however, if you do happen to feel some of the following arrhythmia symptoms: fluttering in your chest, racing heart, a slow heartbeat, or sweating. Unless these symptoms persist or increase in intensity, there’s no need to worry.
  • Old man at a routine medical checkup
    3. Sudden or persistent symptoms are a sign of trouble.
    Some arrhythmias are life-threatening, or a result of a life-threatening heart problem, and require intervention as soon as possible. A racing heart or slow pulse rate that does not go away after a short while could be a sign that the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively has been compromised. Seek immediate medical help if a too-slow or too–fast heart rhythm coincides with shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness or chest pain–or if these symptoms occur suddenly.
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    4. Arrhythmias are sometimes caused by other heart problems.
    The heart is a complicated muscle system consisting of several moving parts. A problem with any part of the heart muscle can interfere with electrical signals and create irregular beating patterns. Coronary heart disease (blocked arteries), high blood pressure, and scarring from a previous heart attack can all contribute to the development of arrhythmias. Heart rhythm is also severely disrupted during a heart attack. 
  • Businesswoman clutching chest
    5. Arrhythmias can also have behavioral and other causes.
    Not all arrhythmias are the result of heart problems. Other medical conditions can lead to abnormal heart rhythm. These include diabetes, sleep apnea, and thyroid disorders. Sometimes, personal lifestyle choices can contribute to deteriorating heart health. Smoking, consuming too much alcohol and caffeine, drug abuse, and poor stress management are cited as causes of or factors in many medical conditions—and heart disease and arrhythmias make the list.  
  • Doctor showing X-ray to patient
    6. Complications from arrhythmia can be serious.
    Arrhythmias can affect your heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently. Because a steady blood supply is necessary for your organs to function properly, a disruption to the regular flow of blood through your body can create serious complications. One of the potential complications of arrhythmias is the formation of blood clots. Clots can form inside a poorly functioning heart chamber, break off, and circulate inside your body. If the blood clot blocks a vessel in the brain, the resulting loss of blood supply can cause a stroke. Another complication of arrhythmias is heart failure, which can happen if the heart works inefficiently for a prolonged period of time.    
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    7. There are a number of arrhythmia treatment options.
    If your arrhythmia causes serious or uncomfortable symptoms, your doctor may recommend treatment. Depending on the type and severity, the recommended treatment could be medication, a medical procedure, implantable device, or, in rare cases, surgery. Rapid or irregular heart rhythm can be treated with certain medicines. If you have a slow heart rate, you may need a pacemaker, an implanted device that sends a small shock to adjust your heartbeat as needed. Cardioversion and defibrillation are other common medical procedures used to treat several types of arrhythmia. 
  • Older women exercising
    8. You can prevent arrhythmias and heart disease.
    Living a heart-healthy lifestyle can help prevent arrhythmias and other heart conditions. There are many things you can do to minimize your risk, including eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a recommended weight, and finding a healthy outlet for stress. Moderating your consumption of caffeine and alcohol and refraining from using tobacco products can also help to keep you in top physical shape. You should also carefully read the instructions on any cold medication you consider taking, as some cold medicines are known to trigger rapid heartbeat.
Irregular Heartbeat | 8 Things to Know About Heart Arrhythmias

About The Author

  1. About Arrhythmia. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/AboutArrhythmia/About-Arrhythmia_UCM_002010_Arti...
  2. Arrhythmia. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/arrhythmia
  3. Arrhythmia. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/arrhythmia.html
  4. Heart arrhythmia. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-arrhythmia/symptoms-causes/syc-20350668
  5. How Are Arrhythmias Treated? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/arr/treatment
  6. What Are the Signs and Symptoms of an Arrhythmia? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/arr/signs
  7. What Is an Arrhythmia? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/arr
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Last Review Date: 2021 Nov 25
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