An arrhythmia occurs when the electrical impulses that coordinates your heartbeats don't work properly, resulting in your heart to beat too fast, too slow or abnormally. The condition may feel like a racing heart and may be undamaging. However, some heart arrhythmias may lead to life-threatening symptoms.
What are the causes of an arrhythmia?
An arrhythmia doesn’t usually cause any symptoms. But gradually, it may show certain signs including:
Arrhythmias may cause you to feel premature or extra heartbeats
, or you may feel that your heart is racing or beating too slowly. Other signs and symptoms may be related to your heart not pumping effectively due to the fast or slow heartbeat. These include shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness, light-headedness, fainting or near fainting, and chest pain or discomfort.
Tests and diagnosis for an arrhythmia
Tests recommended by your cardiologist
in order to diagnose arrhythmia include:
- ECG: During an ECG, sensors (electrodes) that can detect the electrical activity of your heart are attached to your chest and sometimes to your limbs. An ECG measures the timing and duration of each electrical phase in your heartbeat.
- Echocardiogram: In this non-invasive test, a hand-held device (transducer) placed on your chest uses sound waves to produce images of your heart's size, structure and motion.
- Implantable loop recorder: This device detects abnormal heart rhythms and is implanted under the skin in the chest area.
- Electrophysiological testing and mapping: In this test, doctors thread thin, flexible tubes (catheters) tipped with electrodes through your blood vessels to a variety of spots within your heart. Once in place, the electrodes can map the spread of electrical impulses through your heart.
- Stress Test: During a stress test, you'll be asked to exercise on a treadmill or stationary bicycle while your heart activity is monitored. If doctors are evaluating you to determine if coronary artery disease may be causing the arrhythmia, and you have difficulty exercising.
Usually, treatment for an arrhythmia is required only if the arrhythmia is causing significant symptoms or if it's putting you at risk of a more serious arrhythmia or arrhythmia complication.
Treating slow heartbeats: If slow heartbeats don't have a cause that can be corrected, doctors often treat them with a pacemaker because there aren't any medications that can reliably speed up your heart.
Treating fast heartbeats: For fast heartbeats, treatments may include vagal manoeuvres, medications, cardioversion, and catheter ablation.