Arrhythmia: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prognosis

Arrhythmia symptoms are the first warning signs of heart disease. Although even healthy people can sometimes notice a mild change in their heart beat, if it happens constantly, then you have a problem. I didn't know know I have it, until I went through diagnosis process.

There are several possible causes of arrhythmia which includes electrolyte imbalances, heart attack, changes in your heart function or the size of the heart muscle as well as high blood pressure, diabetes, stress, some supplements and medications, coffee, smoking, alcohol or high blood lipid levels which can clog coronary arteries and cause arrhythmia.

Since, it is very difficult to detect it without proper diagnosis, you should pay attention to the following symptoms of arrhythmia. However, if you have a blood pressure measuring device, it can help you asses your heart rate and detect irregular heart rhythms.


They are:

  • Heart palpitations - this is the number one sign of arrhythmia, you may experience the feeling of skipped beat, fast heartbeat or fluttering
  • Pounding in your chest or neck
  • Shortness of breath, especially during physical activity or emotional stress
  • Weakness, fatigue or tiredness
  • Dizziness, confusion
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Chest pain (angina)

    While arrhythmia is by itself bad, there are a couple of types of it, from which some are worse than others. There are:

  • Atrial fibrillation - very common type of arrhythmia which causes the upper chamber of the heart to contract abnormally.
  • Premature atrial contractions - originate from the atria or the upper chambers of the heart. It causes extra beats which are usually very harmless and they don't require treatment.
  • Atrial flutter - usually occurs in people with heart disease as well as in first week, after the heart surgery. It is more regular than atrial fibrillation and it has a pattern of repetitions. Atrial flutter is caused by fast pulsing circuits in the atrium. In other words, natural pacemaker of the heart is out of rhythm.
  • Premature ventricular contractions(PVCs) - is one of the most frequent arrhythmias which occurs in people with heart disease as well as in healthy people. They can be caused by stress, junk foods, cigars and unhealthy lifestyle choices, especially diet. As well as Premature atrial contractions, PVCs are also usually very harmless and rarely treated. However, this kind of irregular heartbeats may sometimes be a sign of heart disease because of which they should be evaluated by the cardiologist.
  • Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) - is fast heart rate which comes from above the ventricles, often in regular rhythm. It is caused either by extra connections between the atria and the ventricles or by more than one pathway through the AV node. This allows the impulses to travel very fast through the heart which signals the heart muscle to beat very fast. It's like driving a car full throttle. It is only matter of time, when something will go wrong, if left untreated.
  • Ventricular tachycardia (V-tach) - is a fast heart rate coming from the lower ventricles of the heart. It prevents the heart chambers from filling with blood as it should which decreases the amount of blood being pumped through the body. It can be life threatening because of which it requires immediate doctor's attention.
  • Ventricular fibrillation - is irregular, unorganized activity of impulses coming from the ventricles which prevents normal contraction of heart chambers and normal heartbeat. This interferes with normal blood flow which can lead to deadly consequences, if not treated immediately.
  • Bradyarrhythmias - are slow heart beats caused by abnormal heart's natural pacemaker function. The electrical system that sends signals which regulate the heart rhythm and contractions of the heart chambers, is either blocked or out of sync, due to abnormal electrical nodes.
  • Long QT syndrome - is a serious condition. QT interval is a time during which the heart contracts and then recovers. If it is longer then normal, then it increases the risk of ventricular tachycardia which is life-threatening. However it can be treated in several ways.

    There are many test which can help in diagnosis of arrhythmia. This includes holter monitor, stress test, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, cardiac catheterization and tilt table test. The most often used tests are holter monitor, electrocardiogram and stress test to see how does the heart work under when exposed to stress. They are simple, cheap, safe, effective and easy to do.


    Milder cases of arrhythmia do not require any treatment while others require only lifestyle changes. However, when needed the doctor can prescribe you antiarrhythmic drugs which can speed up slow heartbeat while others can be used to slow down fast heartbeat, depending on your condition. Other medications which can be used in treatment, areanticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs such as heparin, warfarin and aspirin.

    Besides medications, there are electrical cardioversion, ablation therapy, vagal maneuvers as well as pacemaker, defibrillator and surgery.

    Electrical cardioversion is painless electrical shock which is used to reset heart to its regular rhythm. Since you are given drugs to relax, there is no pain involved.

    Ablation therapy is done with the use of catheters which are guided through the blood vessels to the heart and positioned on the areas for which your doctor believes are the source of arrhythmia. Electrodes at the catheter tips are heated with radiofrequency energy. However, the tips of the catheters can also be cooled thereby freezing the tissue. These two methods destroys small parts of the heart tissue causing the irregular heartbeats by blocking the electrical pathways causing the condition. The methods usually prevents irregular heartbeats.

    Vagal maneuvers is a procedure that works by affecting the vagus nerves in the brain which control the heartbeat, often causing slow heart rate. It is preformed by holding the breath and straining, coughing or by diving your face in cold water. Procedure is usually used in cases of supraventricular tachycardia. However, other procedures such as deep breathing, can also be effective. Before doing any of them, consult with your doctor.

    Pacemaker is another highly effective option for treating arrhythmia. It is a device which corrects the deviations of your own natural heart pacemaker, whether heartbeat is too slow or too fast due to irregular electrical impulses activity of your natural heart pacemaker.

    Implantable Defibrillator is a device similar to pacemaker. It is primarily used when a person is at high risk of developing a dangerously fast or quivering heartbeat, in the lower half of the heart, known as ventricular tachycardia or ventricle fibrillation. On the other hand, it can also increase slow heart rhythm. It works by sending low or high energy shocks, in order to reset the heart to its normal rhythm.

    There are couple of surgeries available for treating the condition but only when other options are ineffective or lacking. This includes bypass surgery, removing the bulge or aneurysm which may be causing arrhythmia as well as maze procedure. Maze procedure is a surgery whose goal is to cause a scar tissue which is placed carefully. The scar tissue blocks the pathway of electrical signals in one way and directs it to other way, the right way. This prevents irregular heartbeat and causes the heart to work efficiently. Dispite its high success rate, it is preformed rarely, since it is open heart surgery which poses risk of its own.


    Prognosis depends on your condition. The worst it is, more difficult will be to recover from it and the longer recovery process will be. In the end, complete recovery is possible, at least, in most cases. I had it and now I am heart disease free and I no longer have arrhythmia.


    In order to overcome it, you will have to be dedicated and patient. This primarily applies for your diet, exercise regime as well as healthy lifestyle in general. Your condition will improve over time, if you follow this guidelines.

    It would be the best to have one or two heart checkups, every year, so you can monitor your progress. Also, check your thyroid hormones and estrogen since they can affect the heart rhythm and cause arrhythmia.

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