You may have heard of an irregular heartbeat before, but what does it really mean? An irregular heartbeat is a medical condition where the heart beats out of sync or too fast. It is also called arrhythmia. It can result from an abnormality in your heart’s rhythm or a symptom of a serious medical condition. Either way, an irregular heartbeat should be addressed as soon as possible to determine the cause.
Causes of an Irregular Heartbeat
The most common cause of an irregular heartbeat is atrial fibrillation. Other less common causes may include an abnormality in the heart’s rhythm or a side effect of medication.
Types of Arrhythmias
Atrial fibrillation is when the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) contract quickly and irregularly. As a result, blood can stagnate or pool, making it more likely for blood clots to form. If one of these clots breaks off, it could travel through your bloodstream until it reaches your brain or other vital organs. This can cause serious complications or even death.
Ventricular fibrillation is when the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles) contract quickly and irregularly, which may cause blood to pool in the heart. If this occurs, it could lead to cardiac arrest or stroke if not corrected immediately.
Bradyarrhythmia is a slow heart rate. It can be caused by an electrical problem with the heart’s conduction system, but it may also be a side effect of medication or one of several serious medical conditions.
Symptoms of an Irregular Heartbeat
The symptoms of an irregular heartbeat will vary depending upon the type of arrhythmia. Some people with atrial fibrillation may not realize they have it until their heart rate increases due to physical activity or another trigger. However, other sufferers experience symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, weakness and difficulty breathing. Likewise, if you’ve been diagnosed with bradyarrhythmia, you may feel shortness of breath and lightheadedness.
Treatment for an Irregular Heartbeat
It is important to note that not all arrhythmias require medical treatment as they can be corrected naturally by the body itself. However, if your arrhythmia isn’t responding to natural methods, you may need medication.
Another less common but possible treatment for an irregular heartbeat is electrical cardioversion, where a small electrical charge is delivered to the heart in order to restore its beating pattern and rhythm. People who suffer from frequent episodes of atrial fibrillation may be advised to undergo a procedure called cardiac ablation, where the heart’s faulty electrical pathways are treated to prevent future issues.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, call your physician as soon as possible for medical assistance. If it is caused by another health condition, that may need to be treated first before the arrhythmia can be corrected. Regardless of what is causing your irregular heartbeat, it is important to correct it as soon as possible for your comfort and safety.
Why It’s Important to Diagnose and Treat an Arrhythmia
Having an irregular heartbeat can be very dangerous, especially if you are at risk of stroke. An irregular heartbeat is linked to many serious conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and obesity. If left untreated, it could cause the following complications:
- Blood clots – if your heart is beating too fast or too slow for a long period of time, your blood may become more likely to form dangerous blood clots.
- Stroke – the biggest cause of disability and death in people over 65.
- Heart failure – when your heart is unable to pump enough blood around your body, it can lead to edema (fluid build-up) in your limbs and shortness of breath.
The best way to avoid these complications is to be diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat quickly and treated as soon as possible. The earlier you are diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin.