Arrhythmia, also called dysrhythmia, occurs when beating of the heart becomes abnormal. It may cause your heart to beat too fast, beat too slow, skip a beat, or have extra beats.
While most arrhythmias are harmless, some may be serious and can be life-threatening. Having irregular heartbeats and too fast or too slow beats can cause the heart to not able to pump enough blood to the different parts of the body. If this happens, this can cause damage to the brain, the heart, and other body organs.
There are four main types of arrhythmias. They include premature (extra) beats, supraventricular arrhythmias, ventricular arrhythmias, and bradyarrhythmias.
Premature (extra) Beats
Most of the time, having premature beats does not cause serious complications and often do not cause serious symptoms. Premature beats are the most common type of arrhythmia.
Healthy people can have premature beats and may not require medical treatment. People with this type of arrhythmia may experience fluttering in the chest or feeling of skipping a beat.
Stress, performing strenuous exercises, intake of too much caffeine and nicotine can cause premature beats to happen. These triggers usually do not cause life-long complications. However, premature beats can also be a sign of a heart disease. If premature beats occur with other symptoms, such as feeling of tightness on the chest, pain that travels to the arm or shoulder, light headedness, and breathing problems, a consultation with a doctor is necessary.
Supraventricular arrhythmia occurs when the part of the heart called the atria beats too fast. This too fast beating of the heart is called tachycardia. Tachycardia occurring in the atria is called atrial tachycardia. This arrhythmia type is due to abnormal electrical signals in the heart.
In suprventricular arrhythmia, the atria-the two upper chambers of the heart-contract too fast that not enough blood is pumped toward the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). As a result, not enough blood is pumped to the different organs of the body.
This condition can be life-threatening if not treated promptly
Ventricular arrhythmia is a very serious heart problem that usually need prompt medical treatment. Like in supraventricular arrhythmia, ventricular arrhythmias occur because of abnormal electrical signals in the heart.
The condition can cause the ventricles (two lower heart chambers) to rapidly contract or quiver very fast instead of pumping normally. This rapid quivering of the ventricle’s muscles is called fibrillation.
When the ventricles either contract rapidly or quiver too fast, not enough blood is pumped to the body organs.
The condition can cause death if not treated immediately. To prevent death, fibrillation occurring in the ventricles must be treated immediately with a device called defibrillator. The defibrillator sends electrical shock to the electrical system of the heart.
In this type of arrhythmia, the heart rate becomes slower than normal. The medical prefix “brady” means slow.
When bradyarrhythmia occurs, not enough blood reaches the different organs of the body. A person may loose consciousness because too little blood travels to the brain.
People who have heart rates lower than 60 beats per minute are considered to have bradyarrhythmia. However, people who are physically fit may have slower heart rates but is considered normal as it does not cause symptoms. The heart of a physically fit person can effectively pump enough blood with every beat.
In some people, the condition is caused by another serious health problem or condition. Bradyarrhythmia can be caused by heart attack, an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), chemical imbalances in the blood, and certain medications like beta blockers.
People who experience arrhythmia should get checked by a doctor, especially if they experience other symptoms or have risk factors for heart disease, such as a family history, high blood pressure, and diabetes. While some arrhythmias are not dangerous, others can lead to more serious complications.
Types of Arrhythmia. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
Living With an Arrhythmia. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).