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A cardiologist holds a stethoscope to check her patient's heart rate and rhythm.

What is cardiac arrhythmia?

Cardiac arrhythmias are irregular heartbeats that occur when electrical signals don’t properly coordinate heartbeats. They often feel like fluttering in the chest or a racing heartbeat. Heart arrhythmias can be harmless, but could also lead to more serious conditions.

What are the symptoms of cardiac arrhythmia?

  • Anxiety
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Fluttering in the chest
  • Lightheadedness
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Sweating

Causes of cardiac arrhythmia

There are many possible causes of cardiac arrhythmia. Common causes include:

  • Blocked arteries
  • Drug usage
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeine
  • Genetics
  • High blood pressure
  • Over or underactive thyroid
  • Scarring and other side effects of heart attack
  • Smoking
  • Stress

Classifications of cardiac arrhythmia

Each type of arrhythmia falls into one of two categories: Tachycardia (a faster than normal heart rate) and bradycardia (a slower than average heart rate).

  • Types of tachycardia include:
    • Atrial fibrillation: rapid, uncoordinated beating of the heart
    • Atrial flutter: a fluttering feeling similar to A-fib, but with a more organized beating
    • Supraventricular tachycardia: abrupt episodes of a pounding heartbeat
    • Ventricular fibrillation: quivering in the lower heart chambers
    • Ventricular tachycardia: rapid heart rate
  • Types of bradycardia include:
    • Sick sinus syndrome: a heartbeat alternating between too slow and too fast
    • Conduction block: slow or stopped heartbeats

Risk factors for cardiac arrhythmia

Prevention tips for cardiac arrhythmia

  • Avoid smoking and nicotine consumption
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Limit caffeine intake
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce stress

Treating heart arrhythmias

The type of treatment given for heart arrhythmias depends on whether you have a fast heartbeat (tachycardia) or slow heartbeat (bradycardia). Some arrhythmias do not require treatment but might be monitored closely by your physician. If the condition is serious, treatment options might include medication, cardiac therapies, or surgery like ablation, pacemaker implant, or coronary bypass surgery.

Palpitations are sensations you feel when your heart rate speeds up, or when you can feel it thumping in your chest. They are common, and causes include exercise, stress, and caffeine. Arrhythmias are disruptions in regular heart rhythm and can have more serious symptoms, such as chest pain, light-headedness, and shortness of breath.

The typical range of a resting heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute. However, a lower heart rate indicates more efficient heart function and better health overall. A simple way to measure your heart rate is by placing your index and middle fingers on either your neck or heart where you can feel your pulse, count how many beats you feel in 15 seconds, and multiply that number by four.

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