Arrhythmias: Things to know about this common heart condition

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Did you know that your heart beats more than 115,000 times per day? This incredible organ is responsible for pumping blood throughout your body and making sure your tissues and organs get the oxygen and nutrients they need. Understandably, problems with the heart can affect all aspects of your health and well-being.

Cardiac arrhythmia is one example of a heart condition that impacts the way a person feels and functions. The cardiology team at SIU Medicine encourages you to learn more about this condition and seek individualized screening and support if you have concerns about your heart health.

What is a cardiac arrhythmia?

The term cardiac arrhythmia—sometimes referred to as cardiac dysrhythmia—is used to define a wide range of conditions or situations in which the normal rhythm of the heart is disrupted. Instead of the typical "lub dub" pattern of a heartbeat, which rises and falls normally throughout the day and during certain activities or situations, a person with a cardiac arrhythmia may experience an abnormally fast, slow, early, or "skipping" pulse.

Causes of cardiac arrhythmias

In general, cardiac arrhythmia happens when the electrical impulses, which signal the coordinated beating of your heart, become disrupted in some way. This may happen due to a variety of reasons, including:

  • Drugs or alcohol abuse
  • Excessive consumption of caffeine or certain other dietary supplements or compounds
  • Diabetes, heart disease (e.g., congestive heart failure or cardiomyopathy), hypertension, and chronic health conditions
  • Mental and emotional stress
  • Smoking
  • Damage or injury to the heart (e.g., a heart attack)
  • Structural changes with the heart (e.g., weakened or abnormally shaped valves, sometimes present at birth)

Signs and symptoms of cardiac arrhythmias 

Cardiac arrhythmias can be mild and virtually harmless, although the sensations associated with them may cause discomfort or concern. In some cases, however, an arrhythmia can be severe and even life threatening.

As mentioned, there are different types of arrhythmias, including tachycardia (fast heart beat), atrial fibrillation (when the heart's two upper chambers beat abnormally relative to the heart's two lower chambers), and bradycardia (slow heart beat). Signs and symptoms depend on which type of arrhythmia you're experiencing. Common ones include:

  • Chest pain
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • The feeling of fluttering, pounding, or "skipping" of the heart (palpitations)
  • Chest pain
  • Syncope (fainting or near fainting)
  • Anxiety, confusion, and trouble concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Breathlessness
  • Weakness

In some cases, there are no symptoms of arrhythmia, although a cardiologist may still be able to detect it on tests and measures such as an EKG, which produces a visual "map" of your heartbeat.

How cardiac arrhythmias are diagnosed and treated

Our team of heart doctors and specialists at SIU can diagnose and treat cardiac arrhythmias using a combination of imaging studies, blood tests, and other exam procedures. Our mission is to identify the cause of your arrhythmia, provide the right individualized treatment (which may include medications, surgery, and pacemaker implantation), and teach you lifestyle behaviors and techniques, which can help you maximize your heart health.

Are you concerned about your heart health?

If you or a loved one has concerns about heart health, contact SIU Medicine at 217.545.8000 to schedule an appointment with a cardiologist. Our highly trained staff members practice using the latest advances and innovative in heart medicine. Call today!

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