Arrhythmia questions

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Submitted by Dr T on November 21, 2011 – 5:50pm

Question: 
What is an Arrhythmia and what causes it?
 

Arrhythmias are caused by problems with your heart’s electrical system. The electrical signals may fire too fast or too slowly, or in an uneven (irregular) way.Arrhythmias are disorders of your heart’s electrical system, which means there is a change in the regular beat of your heart. This can be as a result of the conduction pathway being damaged or blocked, or because an extra pathway is present. The heart may beat too quickly (tachycardia), or too slowly (bradycardia) or irregularly, all of which may affect the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body. These abnormal heart beats are known as arrhythmia. Arrhythmias can occur in the upper chambers of the heart (atria) or in the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). An arrhythmia may occur at any age, and are most often a nuisance rather than a serious problem.

Causes:

Any interruptions in the heart’s electrical system can cause arrhythmias. For example, an irregular heartbeat may begin with an abnormal impulse in the part of the heart other than the normal pacemaker (the sinus node), or the sinus node may develop an abnormal rate or rhythm.

Common causes of an arrhythmia can include stress, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, diet pills and cough and cold medicines. If your heart tissue is damaged as a result of acquired heart disease, such as myocardial infarction (heart attack) or congenital heart disease, you may be at risk of developing an arrhythmia. However for some patients doctors cannot identify a cause of their arrhythmia.

Diagnosis

You will need to have an EKG. If the EKG does not detect any abnormality it may be necessary to arrange for further monitoring of your heart. This may involve having a continuous EKG for a period of time, usually 24-72 hours, called a Holter monitor, that can easily be carried around with you. Other tests may include blood tests and an echocardiogram.

Treatment

If you have an arrhythmia, treatment may or may not be necessary. It may be needed only if the arrhythmia is causing significant symptoms or if it’s putting you at risk for a complication. Apart from specific treatments, It should always include avoiding triggers such as stress, caffeine and smoking.

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