Arrhythmia: You Have an Irregular Heartbeat – What Now?

Arrhythmia: You Have an Irregular Heartbeat – What Now?

What is Heart Disease?

When we think of heart disease, we picture one ailment. The truth, however, is that heart disease refers to a group of different conditions that impact the function and structure of the heart. There are many different types of heart disease, most of which can be grouped into one of four categories based on how they affect the heart: coronary artery and vascular disease, structural heart disease, heart failure, and heart rhythm disorders. This last category is also known as arrhythmia, and it impacts millions of Canadians. 

What is arrhythmia? 

In short, arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm. Our heartbeat is triggered by electrical impulses from our heart’s sinus nodes. With an arrhythmia, those impulses can cause our hearts to beat too slowly. When the heart beats too slowly, less than 60 beats per minute (bpm), it’s known as bradycardia. When it beats too quickly, at more than 100 bpm, it’s known as tachycardia. Or sometimes it beats completely erratically through uncoordinated contractions, known as atrial fibrillation

Bradycardia

Bradycardia happens when your heart beats so slowly that it can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. If left untreated, it can cause excessive fatigue, dizziness, light-headedness, and even fainting. Its causes can include sick sinus syndrome or a heart block. 

Sick sinus syndrome (SSS) is a malfunction of the heart’s natural pacemaker – the sinus node. This malfunction results in the node firing much too slowly and can be caused by disease or just old age. SSS can be temporary or permanent and can be treated with certain medications or the addition of a pacemaker.  

Heart block, on the other hand, is where that electrical signal from the node is interrupted from the upper chambers of the heart to the lower ones. It’s typically classified in three categories or degrees; first-, second-, and third-degree heart block. First-degree may cause a slight disruption to the node’s signals with no symptoms whereas a third-degree block means none of the signals are reaching the ventricles.

Tachycardia 

Tachycardia occurs when your heart beats too rapidly, usually above 100 bpm, and can cause symptoms including shortness of breath, lightheadedness, heart palpitations, chest pain, and fainting. It manifests in one of two types: tachycardia above a ventricle (supraventricular) or inside of one. Supraventricular tachycardia can lead to atrial flutter, atrial fibrillation, Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT), or Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) Syndrome, which is an Inherited Rhythm Disorder (IRD). Meanwhile, in-ventricle tachycardia can cause ventricular tachycardia, ventricular fibrillation, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation, or Afib, is an irregular or quivering heartbeat that can result in blood clots, stroke, or heart failure to name only a few possible complications. There are many different causes for Afib including high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, and even sleep apnea, and it can be defined by three different types: paroxysmal, persistent, and permanent.

One of the most dangerous complications as a result of Afib is strokes. 1 in 3 strokes beyond the age of 60 are caused by Afib, and people with Afib have a 3 to 6 times greater risk of suffering an ischemic stroke. 

What You Can Do

If you’re showing any symptoms of arrhythmia, see your physician immediately. They will likely do a full physical exam followed by other tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG), Holter monitoring, and a tilt-table exam. Treatment largely depends on the type of arrhythmia you have, which is where your physician will come in. Some of the most common recommendations for people affected by arrhythmia include lifestyle changes, medication, and possibly surgery. 


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