Disease at a Glance – Arrhythmia
An arrhythmia is an abnormal or irregular heartbeat. Arrhythmia can be of various types – e.g. tachycardia (heart beats too fast, i.e. at a rate of more than 100 beats per minute); bradycardia (hearts beats too slow, i.e. below 60 beats per minute; fibrillation or flutter (heart beats too irregularly); premature contractions (when the heart beats too prematurely), etc.
The heart has four chambers – the two upper chambers are called atria while the two lower ones are called ventricles. The atria and the ventricles work together, alternately contracting and relaxing in a rhythmic cycle to pump blood through the heart. During contraction, the heart pumps blood out through the arteries. And during relaxation, the heart fills with blood. One complete sequence of filling and pumping blood is called a heartbeat.
|Tachycardia: Breathlessness, dizziness, fainting, fluttering in the chest, sudden weakness|
|Bradycardia: Chest pain, dizziness, fatigue, palpitations, short breaths, fainting spell|
The heart’s electrical system is the power source that makes this contraction and relaxation possible. So, any interruption or abnormality in the electrical system is cause for concern. Why? Because if the heart doesn't beat properly it cannot pump blood effectively. And when the heart doesn't pump blood effectively, the body is unable to work properly.
Arrhythmia can either be asymptomatic or there can be visible symptoms. In tachycardia, for example, patients may complain of breathlessness, dizziness, fainting, fluttering in the chest, feeling lightheaded and sudden weakness. Symptoms of bradycardia include chest pain, confusion, dizziness, fatigue, palpitations, short breaths and loss of consciousness.
Arrhythmias are usually harmless, but it’s important to identify and treat the underlying cause especially if puts the patient at risk for more serious arrhythmias or if there’s an arrhythmia complication. As most arrhythmias are linked to an underlying heart disease, lifestyle changes are also. Some arrhythmias like fibrillation can be serious, requiring urgent medical attention.
1. American Heart Association (www.heart.org)
2. Cleveland Clinic (my.clevelandclinic.org)
3. UCLA Cardiac Arrhythmia Centre (www.arrhythmia.ucla.edu)
4. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (www.nhlbi.nih.gov)