Arrhythmia refers to the abnormal function of the heart's electrical system. The heart normally beats at a rate of 50 to 80 times per minute. People with arrhythmia may have a slow heart rate (bradycardia, or a heart rate below 50 beats per minute at rest) or an accelerated heart rate (tachycardia, or more than 100 beats per minute), or an irregular heart beat (atrial fibrillation, premature beat).
Arrhythmia often has no health impact and can occur briefly and without symptoms in people with normal health. However, the arrhythmia may feel like a flutter or very short acceleration of the heartbeat. In certain cases, symptoms are prolonged or severe, or they may recur and require immediate and/or long-term treatment.
The symptoms experienced during an episode of arrhythmia vary depending on the individual's heart health, the type of arrhythmia, its frequency and its duration.
Both bradycardia and tachycardia can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and even loss of consciousness.
Palpitations feel like fast and/or irregular heartbeats, a flutter or chest pain.
After filling out a comprehensive questionnaire and performing a physical exam, the doctor will prescribe some of the following tests if he or she suspects arrhythmia:
The choice of treatment depends on several factors (type, duration and frequency of arrhythmia, associated symptoms, presence or absence of other heart disease). Treatment may reinsurance when the arrhythmia is benign and is not symptomatic. For some arrhythmias medication will be recommended. Several types of tachycardia are caused by a microscopic fiber located within the heart muscle (fireplace). These are often treated by catheter ablation. A pacemaker is recommended for patients with an excessively slow heart. Finally for patients who are at high risk of sudden death, an implantable defibrillator is recommended.