What Is an Arrhythmia?

An arrhythmia (ah-RITH-me-ah) is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm.

A heartbeat that is too fast is called tachycardia (TAK-ih-KAR-de-ah). A heartbeat that is too slow is called bradycardia (bray-de-KAR-de-ah).

Most arrhythmias are harmless, but some can be serious or even life threatening. During an arrhythmia, the heart may not be able to pump enough blood to the body. Lack of blood flow can damage the brain, heart, and other organs.

In the United States, more than 850,000 people are hospitalized for an arrhythmia each year.

 

Specific arrhythmias

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Flutter

Atrial Tachycardia

AV Node Reentry (AVNRT)

Wolfe Parkinson White (WPW)

Premature Ventricular Contractions

Ventricular Tachycardia

Treatment Options

Medical Management

Cardioversion

Ablation Therapy

Pacemakers and Defibrillators

 

What causes an arrhythmia?

Arrhythmias may be caused by many different factors, including:

  • Coronary artery disease.
  • Electrolyte imbalances in your blood (such as sodium or potassium).
  • Changes in your heart muscle.
  • Injury from a heart attack.
  • Healing process after heart surgery.
  • Irregular heart rhythms can also occur in "normal, healthy" hearts.

What can I do?

If you notice that your arrhythmia occurs more often with certain activities, you should avoid them.

  • If you smoke, stop.
  • Limit your intake of alcohol.
  • Limit or stop using caffeine.
  • Avoid stimulants used in cough and cold medications.

Outlook

The outlook for a person who has an arrhythmia depends on the type and severity of the arrhythmia. Even serious arrhythmias often can be successfully treated. Most people who have arrhythmias are able to live normal, healthy lives.

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