What is abnormal heart rhythm?

heart rhythm printout

An abnormal heart rhythm occurs when the rate at which the heart beats is irregular, too slow or too fast, causing the blood to be pumped less effectively. This condition is commonly known as arrhythmia, and is treated by cardiologists.

When the heart’s electrical system malfunctions, the normal rhythm of the heart can be affected.

What are the symptoms of abnormal heart rhythm?

Arrhythmia may not cause any symptoms. However, you could experience these noticeable signs listed below:
● Chest pain
● Shortness of breath
● A fluttering in your chest
● A racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
● A slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
● Lightheadedness or dizziness
● Sweating
● Fainting (syncope) or near fainting

What are the causes of and risk factors for abnormal heart rhythm?

Abnormal heart rhythm could be caused by damaged heart muscle, or by abnormalities within the body affecting the heart. Causes of abnormal heart rhythm could include:

● An on-going heart attack or a damaged heart muscle from a prior episode
● Congenital heart disease
● Heart failure
● Abnormal levels of stimulants such as alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine
● or drugs to manage blood pressure

Abnormal heart rhythms are more common in people who have:
● Heart damage such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, valve disorders
● High blood pressure
● Diabetes
● Thyroid conditions,
● or excessive consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.

Enquire with our cardiologists.

Did you know?

Aerobic interval training has been shown to reduce the amount of time during which a patient’s heart beats irregularly or faster (also known as atrial fibrillation) in patients with non-permanent atrial fibrillation.

A small study in Norway showed that at the end of a 12-week period, patients who had aerobic interval training compared to regular exercise experienced reduced time in atrial fibrillation with significant improvements in patients’ symptoms, various heart functions, and quality of life1.

What are the possible complications of abnormal heart rhythm?

doctor holding stethoscope facing viewer

If the abnormal heart rhythm persists, the heart’s ability to pump blood is compromised. A life-threatening medical emergency such as a cardiac arrest can arise. A cardiac arrest occurs where there is abrupt loss in the heart’s pumping action due to an extremely fast and chaotic rhythm.

Prolonged arrhythmia can lead to heart failure due to the heart pumping ineffectively.

Arrhythmias can also cause a stroke. When the heart is unable to pump blood effectively, clots can form, and these clots can break loose. If a clot travels from the heart to the brain, it might block blood flow to the brain, causing a stroke.

When should I see a specialist for abnormal heart rhythm?

You should see a specialist cardiologist if:

● You develop any of the symptoms of a possible arrhythmia.
● You have been diagnosed with an arrhythmia and your symptoms worsen or do not improve with treatment.

How should I prepare for my appointment?

For your appointment, be prepared for your cardiologist to ask you the following:

● To describe your symptoms, if you feel fluttering in your chest and whether you feel dizzy or light-headed
● If you have other health problems, or a family history of heart disease and related conditions
● Any other medicines you are taking, whether they are prescribed, over the counter medicines, or supplements
● Your lifestyle habits such as physical activity, smoking, and consumption of alcohol and caffeine.

During the physical examination, your cardiologist will listen to your heartbeat, to discern rate, rhythm, any heart murmurs (abnormal sounds), as well as check your pulse, swelling in legs and feet, and for other disease that might cause arrhythmia.

How do specialists diagnose abnormal heart rhythm?

Specialists diagnose abnormal heart rhythms using an electrocardiogram (also known as an “EKG” or “ECG”) machine to examine the electrical impulses of your heart beat. This will help them determine any abnormality and identify the cause.

Other diagnostic tools your cardiologist may use include the following:

● Echocardiogram, that uses sound waves to take pictures of your heart.
● Holter monitor, which is worn between 24 to 48 hours and allows your cardiologist to track changes in your heart’s rhythm throughout a normal day of activity.
● Stress test to assess your heart as you walk or jog on a treadmill.

What treatments are available for abnormal heart rhythm?

The treatment depends on the cause of the abnormality. Your specialist may recommend treatments to manage your symptoms such as breathlessness, chest pain, or dizziness or to reduce your risk of a complication such as stroke, heart attack, or heart failure.

Common treatment options include medications, implants, or surgery. Some treatments that our cardiologists are experienced in include the following:

● Medication to control heart rate or to prevent clots from forming
● Insertion of a pacemaker to send out electrical signals to stimulate a steady heart rate
● Maze procedure, where a surgeon creates scar tissue in the upper half of the heart to interfere with stray signals that cause certain types of arrhythmia.

Request an appointment with a cardiologist today.

[1] Malmo V, Nes BM, Amundsen BH, et al. Aerobic Interval Training Reduces the Burden of Atrial Fibrillation in the Short Term: A Randomized Trial. Circulation. 2016;133(5):466-473. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.115.018220.