What is an arrhythmia?
An arrhythmia is a change in the regular beat of the heart. The heart may seem to skip a beat, beat irregularly, or beat very fast or very slowly.
Having an arrhythmia does not necessarily mean that a person has heart disease. Many arrhythmias occur in people who do not have underlying heart disease.
What causes arrhythmias?
Many times, there is no recognizable cause of an arrhythmia. Heart disease can cause arrhythmias. Other causes include: stress, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, diet pills, and cough and cold medicines.
Are arrhythmias serious?
Most arrhythmias are harmless and do not require extensive exams or special treatments. When an arrhythmia is associated with heart disease, it is heart disease—not the arrhythmia—that poses the greatest risk to the patient.
In a small number of people with serious symptoms, arrhythmias themselves are dangerous. These arrhythmias require medical treatment to keep the heartbeat regular. For example, a few people have a very slow heartbeat ( bradycardia), causing them to feel lightheaded or faint. If left untreated, the heart may stop beating altogether.
How common are arrhythmias?
Arrhythmias are common in middle-aged adults. More than 2 million Americans are living with Atrial Fibrillation, just one type of arrhythmia, and over 800,000 people are admitted to the hospital each year for heart rhythm disorders.1 As people get older, they are more likely to experience an arrhythmia.
What are the symptoms of an arrhythmia?
Most people have felt their heart beat very fast, experienced a fluttering in their chest, or noticed that their heart skipped a beat at some stage. Almost everyone has also felt dizzy, faint, or out of breath or had chest pains at one time or another. One of the most common arrhythmias is sinus arrhythmia, the change in heart rate that can occur normally when we take a breath. These experiences may cause anxiety, but for the majority of people, they are completely harmless.
You should not panic if you experience a few flutters or your heart races occasionally. But if you have questions about your heart rhythm or symptoms, check with your doctor.