Arrhythmia (Irregular Heart Rhythm)

What is it?

Arrhythmia is any variation from the normal rhythm of the heartbeat. The heart rate at rest is usually between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Much lower rates may be normal in young adults, particularly those who are physically fit. Almost everyone's heart skips or flutters at one time or another, and these mild, one-time palpitations are harmless.  The heart rate responds not only to exercise and inactivity but also to such factors as pain and anger.

Only when the heart rate is too fast, beating more than 100 beats a minute, or too slow, beating less than 60 beats per minute, or when the electrical impulses travel in abnormal pathways is the heartbeat considered abnormal and may cause a heart block. The most serious form of arrhythmia, is fast, uncoordinated beats, which are contractions of individual heart-muscle fibers.

Causes, Symptoms and Risk Factors

Many factors can cause your heart to beat irregularly. Causes may include:

  • Congenital (diagnosed at birth)
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Stress
  • Caffeine
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines

How a patient describes arrhythmia symptoms often helps the doctor diagnose an arrhythmia and determine how serious it is. The most important considerations are whether the:

  • Heartbeats are fast or slow, regular or irregular or short or long
  • Dizziness, light-headed, faint or even loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unusual sensations along with the palpitations
  • Palpitations happen at rest or only during strenuous or unusual activity
  • Palpitations start and stop suddenly or gradually

Our Services (Tests, Procedures and Treatments)

Diagnostic testing and procedures are the first step in establishing a treatment strategy. A doctor may order tests or perform the following procedures:

Several procedures can be useful in correcting irregular heart rhythms:

In other cases, no treatment is needed. Most people with an arrhythmia lead normal, active lifestyles. Often, certain lifestyle changes, such as avoiding caffeine, over-the-counter pain medicines or avoiding alcohol, are enough to stop the arrhythmia.

St. Luke's Heart & Vascular