Arrhythmias are abnormal or irregular heartbeats. They occur when the
electrical impulses in your heart coordinate the natural rhythm incorrectly.
Most people have experienced an arrhythmia. However, you may have had an
arrhythmia without any symptoms. Your doctor may be the first to notice signs
of an arrhythmia. This will probably be during a routine physical exam when they
listen to your heartbeat or perform an electrocardiogram (ECG).
Symptoms of arrhythmias are varied and can indicate either a
harmless condition or one that needs immediate attention. To be safe, you
should consult your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
The most common signs and symptoms of arrhythmias include:
- a feeling that your heart is skipping a beat
- a heartbeat that is too fast or “racing”
- a heartbeat that is too slow
- an irregular heartbeat
- pauses between heartbeats
More serious symptoms include:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- fainting or near-fainting
- severe heart palpitations
to call your doctor
The symptoms of arrhythmias are too often ignored. You should always consult
your doctor if you have symptoms of arrhythmias. Some symptoms signal a need for
immediate care. Additionally, some symptoms may be caused by other problems
that require urgent diagnosis.
Arrhythmias that require emergency care
The following arrhythmias are medical emergencies. They must be treated as
soon as possible. If left untreated, they can damage your heart or brain, or
even cause death.
Supraventricular arrhythmias cause a fast heart rate. They require immediate
- Atrial fibrillation – This is the most common
supraventricular arrhythmia. It occurs when the atria have fast and irregular
contractions. This arrhythmia can cause a stroke or heart failure. Treatment will
include medications, nonsurgical procedures, or surgery.
- Atrial flutter – This type of arrhythmia is very
similar to atrial fibrillation. Its main distinction is that it has a regular
contraction cycle (rhythm). This type of arrhythmia is very uncommon.
- Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW)
syndrome – This is a life-threating type of arrhythmia that causes the
ventricles to contract prematurely. It occurs when an extra electrical pathway
disrupts the timing of your heartbeat.
start in the ventricles and usually require immediate medical care.
- Ventricular tachycardia – This
arrhythmia has a fast heartbeat and lasts for only a few seconds. Any duration
longer than a few seconds is dangerous and requires emergency medical care.
- Ventricular fibrillation –
V-fib is a very serious condition that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest and
death. It occurs when electrical signals in the heart become disorganized. As a
result, the ventricles quiver rather than pump normally. Without blood being pumped through the body, this will lead to
sudden cardiac arrest. The impulses can be corrected using a defibrillator. In some
cases, an implantable defibrillator may be required for long-term care.
The main symptom of
this arrhythmia is a slow heartbeat. The
body relies on consistent blood flow, so a slow heartbeat can be a serious
problem. If the brain doesn’t get enough blood, it may lead to unconsciousness.
A slow heart rate may not be a problem for people who are fit. But in others,
it can cause a serious condition like a heart attack, chemical imbalance, or an
underactive thyroid gland.