An arrhythmia is a disorder of the heart rate or heart rhythm where the heart beats too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia) or irregularly.
An arrhythmia can be harmless, a sign of other heart problems, or an immediate danger to your health.
Normally, your heart works as a pump that brings blood to the lungs and the rest of your body. To help this happen, your heart has an electrical system, that makes sure it contracts (squeezes) in an orderly way.
Arrhythmias are caused by problems with the heart’s electrical system and can make it difficult for your heart to pump enough blood to your body.
Some of the more common abnormal heart rhythms are:
- Atrial fibrillation
- Atrial flutter
- Supraventricular tachycardia
- Ventricular fibrillation
- Ventricular tachycardia
- Heart block or atrioventricular block
People with arrhythmia may not feel any symptoms. If you do experience symptoms, they may include:
- Fast or slow heartbeat
- Heart palpitations
- Pounding in your chest
- Lightheadedness, dizziness or fainting
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness or fatigue
Arrhythmias can cause sudden cardiac arrest, which occurs when the heart’s electrical system stops working properly. You may experience the above symptoms before a sudden cardiac arrest.
However, when a sudden cardiac arrest happens, its symptoms are severe:
- Sudden collapse
- No pulse
- No breathing
- Loss of consciousness
Sudden cardiac arrest can result in sudden cardiac death within minutes without emergency treatment, such as CPR or defibrillation. If you or someone around you experiences these symptoms, call 911 immediately.
At the Wake Forest Baptist Heart and Vascular Center, our cardiac electrophysiology specialists take a comprehensive approach to detecting and diagnosing all types of arrhythmias. We begin with a physical exam and medical and family history of heart disease. To confirm an arrhythmia, your physician may recommend further tests, including:
- Blood and stress tests
- Cardiac MRI
- Diagnostic catheterization
- Electrocardiogram (EKG)
- Event and Holter monitor to record your heart’s electrical activity over 24 to 48 hours
Your treatment will depend on which type of arrhythmia you have. In some cases, treatment may not be necessary. Your doctor will develop a personalized treatment plan for you, which may include one or more of the following:
- Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)
- Heart surgery
Only you and your doctor can decide which treatment is right for you. All of our patients receive pre-operative counseling to help them understand the risks and benefits of procedures.
Heart and Vascular Center
Wake Forest Baptist’s Heart and Vascular Center combines cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery and vascular surgery to provide a multidisciplinary team approach to patient- and family-centered care. At the Heart and Vascular Center, our philosophy is clear: patients come first. We offer the latest in technology, devices and medication combined with personalized care, to offer life-changing vascular and heart disease treatments.