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Heard about heart arrhythmia but don't know what it is? Have arrhythmia and want to know more?

What is arrhythmia?

Heart arrhythmia is essentially a condition in which there is abnormal electrical activity in the heart. As a result, the heart beat may be too fast (tachyarrhythmias - faster than 100 beats per minute) or too slow (bradyarrhythmias - less than 60 beats per minute), and the beats may be regular or irregular. According to the American Heart Association cardiac arrhythmia is not uncommon — for example about 2.2 million Americans are living with atrial fibrillation (one type of arrhythmia).

Some arrhythmias are life-threatening medical emergencies that can result in cardiac arrest and sudden death.

Others can cause ongoing symptoms such as palpitations and may be merely annoying. In fact, the most common symptom of arrhythmia is an awareness of palpitations. These may be infrequent, frequent, or continuous.

Finally, in some cases an individual may not experience any symptoms at all, but still be at risk of a potentially life-threatening stroke.

If an arrhythmia results in a heartbeat that is too fast, too slow, or too weak to supply the body's needs, you may experience low blood pressure, dizziness, or fainting.

Diagnosis of heart arrhythmia

Cardiac arrhythmias are often first detected by a doctor listening to your heart through a simple stethoscope - or you may have have had some symptoms.

The standard clinical tool for diagnosing arrhythmia is the the electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG).

In some cases, you may be asked to wear a Holter monitor to provide an EKG recorded over a 24-hour period to detect arrhythmias that may happen briefly and/or unpredictably throughout the day.

A treadmill stress test may be used for people whose suspected arrhythmias are clearly exercise-related.

Types of heart arrhythmia

Treatment for arrhythmia

Once an arrhythmia is diagnosed, your doctor will determine if treatment is required, and if so, what type of treatment. Some arrhythmias require no treatment at all.

If you require treatment, the goal will be to

  • Prevent blood clots from forming to reduce stroke risk
  • Control your heart rate within a relatively normal range
  • Restore a normal heart rhythm, if possible
  • Treat heart disease/condition that may be causing arrhythmia
  • Reduce other risk factors for heart disease and stroke

Treatments may include drugs, defibrillation, a pacemaker, and ablation.

Living with arrhythmia

If you have arrhythmia, it's important to take your medications as directed by your doctor, know your normal heart rate and monitor it regularly, avoid certain substances as directed by your doctor, and manage/reduce your risk factors.

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