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Arrhythmia: Heart Skips A Beat

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Arrhythmia is a condition of the heart in which the heart beats irregularly. The prevalence of arrhythmia in Asian countries is lower compared to the West. Those with this condition have a poorer quality of life and higher mortality rate. 

World Heart Day falls on 29 September this year. Apart from coronary artery disease, heart failure, and heart valve problems, we now look into problems with the heartbeat, otherwise known as arrhythmia!

What is arrhythmia?

Arrhythmia is a heart condition in which the electrical signals that regulate the heartbeat do not function properly. As a result, the person may experience abnormal heart rhythm.

The human heart beats 60-100 times per minute. The heartbeat varies depending on how fit and healthy the person is. The heartbeat can be measured by checking the wrist, side of the neck and inside the elbow. If this beating becomes irregular or does not follow the normal pattern, it is considered to be Arrhythmia. 

Arrhythmias can be categorised into 4 categories:

  • Slow heartbeat or Bradycardia
  • Fast heartbeat or Tachycardia
  • Irregular heartbeat or fibrillation or flutter
  • Early heartbeat

What are the causes of arrhythmia?

Any interruption is caused to the electrical impulses regulating the heartbeat can result in arrhythmias. There are various causes for this interruption:

  • Underlying heart conditions such as coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol, drugs or heavy smoking
  • Hypertension
  • Excessive consumption of caffeinated drinks
  • Imbalance of sodium and potassium levels in the body
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Excessive stress 
  • A heart attack resulting in scarring of the heart
  • Other medical conditions

What are the symptoms of arrhythmia?

It is not definite that arrhythmias exhibit symptoms, some may be silent. The symptoms of arrhythmias vary depending on their type. Chest pain, breathlessness, dizziness, fainting, and general weakness are common for most types of arrhythmias. 

Bradycardia

  • Difficulty in concentrating and confusion.
  • Difficulty in exercising. 
  • Palpitation (a fluttering feeling in the chest)
  • Profuse sweating

Tachycardia

  • Fluttering in the chest 
  • Lightheadedness

Who are at risk of developing arrhythmia?

A person’s risk of developing arrhythmias increases with the below factors: 

  • Older than 65 years
  • A close relative with this condition. 
  • Heart problems
  • Hyperthyroidism, Hypothyroidism 
  • Uncontrolled diabetes.
  • Hypertension
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Obesity
  • Unhealthy lifestyle like excessive consumption of alcohol, smoking and drug abuse 

How is arrhythmia diagnosed?

If you have any of the above symptoms of arrhythmias, you should consult a doctor without delay. The doctor will diagnose arrhythmias via series of tests: 

  • Electrocardiogram that records the electrical activity of the heart. 
  • Echocardiogram that uses ultrasound to check the muscles and valves of the heart. 
  • Heart catheterisation where a catheter will be inserted to the heart and a dye will be passed to check the heart valves and chambers. 
  • Stress test that finds out how much stress your heart can take 

Besides the above, a blood test, urine test and chest x-ray may also be done to diagnose the condition. 

What are the treatment options available for arrhythmia?

The treatment option for this condition depends on the type of arrhythmias. The treatment options include:

Medication

Anti-arrhythmic drugs are prescribed by the doctor to regulate the rhythm of the heartbeat. Your cardiologist may also prescribe anticoagulant and anti-platelet drugs for stroke prevention.

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes helps control the complications arising out of this condition. If you consume alcohol, or smoke excessively, it is advisable to cut down on it. If you are sensitive to caffeine products like tea and coffee, you should limit your intake on these items. 

Some stimulants found in cough and cold medication may affect your heart rate. If you experience palpitations taking them, you can speak to a doctor or pharmacist on alternative choices. 

Invasive therapies

Electrical cardioversion: In this invasive therapy, an electrical shock is provided to the chest wall that helps the normal rhythm of the heart to restart. 

Catheter ablation: Energy is passed to the heart muscles through catheter to destroy the tissue causing the arrhythmia in a targeted fashion.

Pacemaker: Pacemaker is a small device implanted in the heart that helps it to maintain beating at a normal rhythm. 

Surgery

If medication and invasive therapies were not effective in regulating heartbeat, the doctor may suggest undergoing surgery. Arrhythmia surgery will be prescribed by the doctor if you need other types of surgery like bypass surgery and valve surgery to correct other heart conditions. 

Conclusion

Irregular heartbeat does not imply a fatal condition. Arrhythmias can be managed through proper intervention. If you experience any of the above symptoms, it is best to consult a doctor without delay. The doctor will examine your heart rhythm and prescribe lifestyle changes or medication, as required.

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