Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
The heart should work in a regular, steady pattern. Arrhythmias are breaks in the pattern. It may happen in a short burst or last over a long periods of time. Arrhythmias may be:
Most will not affect overall health. Some arrhythmias can slow the flow of blood to the body or increase the risk of other health problems such as stroke.
The action of the heart is controlled by an electrical signal. The signal starts in a group of cells called the sinoatrial (SA) node and moves from the top to the bottom of the heart. The heart will contract first in the upper areas of the heart called the atria and then the lower areas of the heart called the ventricles. Arrhythmias may occur if:
Factors that may increase your risk of arrhythmias include:
Not all arrhythmias will cause symptoms. Some arrhythmias may be felt as a fluttering in the chest, skipped heartbeat, or fast heartbeat.
Arrhythmias that slow the flow of blood through the heart will also slow the flow of blood to the body. If the flow is slowed enough it can lead to:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and family history. A physical exam will be done including listening to your heart, taking your pulse, and looking for any signs of heart problems.
The electrical activity will be checked with one of the following:
To help find what may be causing problems or to look for problems of the heart structure the doctor may also order:
Not all arrhythmias need to be treated. Many are harmless and will not cause problems. When arrhythmias cause symptoms serious enough to affect your daily life or increase the risk of other conditions, treatment may be needed. The goal of treatment is to return your heart to a normal rhythm. The type of treatment will depend on your specific arrhythmia and your overall health. Options include:
Not all arrhythmias can be prevented. To help reduce your chance of certain arrhythmias:
American Heart Association
Heart Rhythm Society
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation
Arrhythmias. American Heart Association website. Available at:
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/Arrhythmia_UCM_002013_SubHomePage.jsp. Accessed November 8, 2012.
Arrhythmia. Texas Heart Institute website. Available at:
http://www.texasheartinstitute.org/HIC/Topics/Cond/Arrhythmia.cfm. Updated October 2012. Accessed November 8, 2012.
Atrial fibrillation. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115288/Atrial-fibrillation. Updated September 27, 2016. Accessed September 29, 2016.
arrhythmia. National Heart Lung and Blood website. Available at:
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/arr. Updated July 1, 2011. Accessed November 8, 2012.
Sick sinus syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113692/Sick-sinus-syndrome. Updated December 8, 2015. Accessed September 29, 2016.
Ventricular arrhythmias. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T909129/Ventricular-arrhythmias. Updated September 27, 2016. Accessed June 28, 2016.
Last reviewed December 2016 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
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