Although some arrhythmias have no symptoms you’d notice, your doctor can detect abnormal heartbeat during your regular checkups. That’s why doctors take your pulse, listen to your heart and do diagnostic tests like an annual electrocardiogram (ECG). If symptoms are noticed, they usually include things like:
• Palpitations (racing, fluttering, or skipping beats)
• Pounding in your chest
• Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain or discomfort
• Weakness or fatigue
You might first notice arrhythmias from too much caffeine or abusing drugs or alcohol. Some are noticed when people lie down, change medications, or are stressed. Sometimes symptoms go completely unnoticed and all depend on the type of arrhythmia you are having. Good news! Most of the time “palpitations” are not life-threatening. Some are though, so you should learn about this condition and alert your doctor if need be.
What Is An Arrhythmia?
An arrhythmia is just an irregular or abnormal heart beat. It happens when the heart’s electrical system does not function properly. There are many causes: coronary artery disease, changes in the heart muscle or valves, injury from a heart attack, healing after heart surgery, other diseases, activity, medications and even electrolyte imbalances. Some are the result of stress – positive or negative.
The many different kinds of arrhythmias happen to men and women alike. Some are life-long conditions. Others disappear when other conditions are successfully treated. Researchers believe that some are hereditary or genetic. Still, further study is needed to be sure.
Some arrhythmias are life threatening; some are not. Heartbeat changes are normal during daily activities. Irregular heartbeats may not be dangerous when underlying causes are controlled. Some arrhythmias lead to sudden cardiac death and others to strokes. To know if it is life-threatening doctors must correctly diagnose the type of arrhythmia.
How Is Arrhythmia Diagnosed and Treated?
Your primary doctor may order a heart monitor and/or recommend you see a cardiologist or electrophysiologist (a cardiologist with additional credentials for these disorders). The cardiologist does a physical exam and a variety of diagnostic tests. Once identified, your doctor can prescribe preventive measures to help you avoid complications later or treat the condition.
Current diagnostics include electrocardiograms (EKG or ECG), ambulatory (walking around) monitors, stress tests, fainting or head upright tilt tests (HUT), echocardiograms, and cardiac catheterizations.
Treatment depends on the type of arrhythmia. What is best for one type may be wrong for another. Some need no treatment; others need medication, an “ablation” to catheterize the heart and burn out abnormal cells, or a pacemaker or defibrillator.
New treatments are constantly underway. Current clinical trials run the gamut from drugs, safer methods of ablation to non-invasive monitoring devices and behavioral programs.
What You Can Do
Most arrhythmias are diagnosed because patients have regular checkups. If you suspect arrhythmias, tell your doctor immediately. The most important things you can do to avoid problems are to adopt a healthy lifestyle, avoid smoking and alcohol or drug abuse, and have regular checkups.