The term heart arrhythmia refers to any irregularity in the heart rhythm. This irregularity is caused by problems with the electrical signals sent to the heart muscles by the brain stem.
Normal heart function calls for the heart to change based on need and physical exertion.
When an arrhythmia is present, these alternate heart rhythms can be uncomfortable or even life-threatening.
Heart arrhythmias affect over 33 million people worldwide. Doctors have seen a steady rise in numbers over the past thirty years. Of the multiple types of arrhythmias, Atrial Fibrillation is the most concerning.
Heart.org estimates over 12 million cases in the United States by 2030. According to the article, 276,373 died between 2011 and 2018 from this condition.
There are three main types of heart arrhythmia.
- Supraventricular Arrhythmia
- Ventricular Arrhythmia
The Supraventricular Arrhythmias begin in the upper chambers of the heart and include:
- Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia
- Accessory pathway tachycardia
- AV nodal reentrant tachycardia
- Atrial tachycardia
- Atrial fibrillation
- Atrial flutter
Ventricular Arrhythmias are found in the lower chambers of the heart and include:
- Premature ventricular contractions
- Ventricular tachycardia
- Ventricular fibrillation
- Long QT
Bradyarrhythmias are caused by damage to the heart’s electrical system. The two types of Bradyarrhythmias are sinus node dysfunction and heart block.
There are multiple causes of heart arrhythmia.
Here is a comprehensive list:
- Heart attack
- Scarring from a previous heart attack
- Coronary artery disease
- Illness changing the structure of the heart
- Drug abuse
- Alcohol abuse
- High blood pressure
- Sleep apnea
While these causes will not lead to heart arrhythmia, they can play a major role in developing the problem. When they are combined with poor health and inadequate physical health, they can be a major factor.
Just as there are multiple causes for heart arrhythmia, there are also multiple symptoms. A person suffering from heart arrhythmia may have a single symptom or any combination.
The main symptoms of heart arrhythmia are:
- Fast heartbeat
- Slow heartbeat
- Dizziness or faintness
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat
- Chest pain
All of these symptoms can be attributed to other illnesses. Some causes may be environmental and others a result of physical exertion. Understanding how these symptoms work together allows doctors to piece together an appropriate treatment plan.
Treatments for heart arrhythmia vary from patient to patient as they are focused on the specific causes of the ailment. Different causes require different approaches to solving the problem.
- Various medications to the misfiring electrical signals throwing off the natural rhythm of the heart.
- Ablation treatment to either remove scar tissue or sections of damaged tissue that are interfering with the natural electrical pulses of the heart.
- Electric shock treatment uses a large, controlled jolt of electricity to pull the heart back into the correct rhythm.
- Implantable arrhythmia treatments use small devices, such as pacemakers, to monitor and correct heart arrhythmias as they are detected. They use a small jolt to keep the heart in time.
With the continual development of drugs to treat the varying aspects of heart arrhythmia, there will often be changes to the available list of treatment options. These drugs are able to target specific symptoms and help doctors gain control of the arrhythmia.
Here is a partial list of common heart arrhythmia medications available:
Antiarrhythmic drugs – these drugs aim to restore a normal heartbeat by altering the electrical current of the heart.
Calcium channel blockers dilate blood vessels and allow the heart to relax and operate within normal parameters.
Beta-blockers help by stopping adrenaline from having an impact on the heart muscles. This can help reduce the stress normally put on the heart by hormones and natural body functions.
Anticoagulants are the last form of medication available for arrhythmic heart function at this time. This blood thinner is used primarily if there is potential for blood clots and stroke. Pradaxa, Xarelto, and Eliquis are available for treatment.
- Mayo Clinic. Heart Arrhythmia. April 2022. Available at Mayo Clinic.
- Healthline. Atrial Fibrillation: Facts, Statistics, and You. November 2018. Available at Healthline.com.
- Heart.org. Deaths related to irregular heart rhythm may be rising, especially among younger people. July 2021. Available at Heart.org.
- Cleveland Clinic. Arrhythmia. March 2022. Available at Cleveland Clinic.
- Medlineplus.gov. Arrhythmia. August 2016. Available at Medlineplus.gov.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. Arrhythmia Treatment. Available at Hopkinsmedicine.org.
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