Cardiac arrhythmia refers to a group of conditions that cause the heart to beat irregular, too slowly, or too quickly. There are several categories of arrhythmia, including:
bradycardia, or a slow heartbeat
tachycardia, or a fast heartbeat
irregular heartbeat, also known as a flutter or fibrillation
early heartbeat, or a premature contraction
Some people may hear doctors use the word “dysrhythmia” when referring to their irregular heartbeat. The words arrhythmia and dysrhythmia mean the same, but the word arrhythmia is more prevalent.
What are the types of arrhythmia?
There are several types of arrhythmia, as described here:
This is the irregular beating of the atrial chambers, and nearly always involves tachycardia. Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is common and mainly develops in adults over 65 years of age. Instead of producing a single, strong contraction, the chamber fibrillates, or quivers, often producing a rapid heartbeat.
While fibrillation causes many random and different quivers in the atrium, atrial flutter is usually from one area in the atrium that is not conducting properly. This produces a consistent pattern in the abnormal heart conduction. Some people may experience both flutter and fibrillation. Atrial flutter can be a serious condition and usually leads to fibrillation without treatment.
The condition known as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) refers to a rapid but rhythmically regular heartbeat. An individual can experience a burst of accelerated heartbeats that can last from a few seconds to a few hours. Doctors classify atrial fibrillation and flutter under SVTs.
This condition refers to abnormal electrical impulses that start in the ventricles and cause an abnormally fast heartbeat. This often happens if the heart has a scar from a previous heart attack.
This is an irregular heart rhythm consisting of rapid, uncoordinated, and fluttering contractions of the ventricles. The ventricles do not pump blood but quiver instead Ventricular fibrillation can be life threatening and usually has links to heart disease. A heart attack often triggers it.
Long QT syndrome
This syndrome refers to a heart rhythm disorder that sometimes causes rapid, uncoordinated heartbeats. This can result in fainting, which may be life threatening. It can also occur due to genetic susceptibility or taking certain medications.
What are the causes of arrhythmia?
Any interruption to the electrical impulses that stimulate heart contractions may result in arrhythmia. Several factors can cause the heart to work incorrectly, including:
substance use disorder
drinking too much coffee
heart disease, such as congestive heart failure
high blood pressure
hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid gland
scarring of the heart, often due to a heart attack
certain dietary and herbal supplements
structural changes in the heart
A person with good heart health will hardly ever experience long-term arrhythmia unless they have an external trigger, such as a substance use disorder or an electric shock.
However, an underlying heart problem can mean that electrical impulses do not travel through the heart correctly. This increases the risk of arrhythmia.
What are the risk factors of arrhythmia?
The following may increase a person’s risk of arrhythmia:
being 65 years of age or older
inherited genetic anomalies
underlying heart problems
hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism
some prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs