Arrhythmias Treatment

Overview

Heart rhythm problems (heart arrhythmias) occur when the electrical impulses that coordinate your heartbeats don’t work properly, causing your heart to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly.

Signs & Symptoms

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Arrhythmias may not cause any signs or symptoms. A lot of the time, a doctor might find you have an arrhythmia before you do. Noticeable signs and symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have a serious problem. However, noticeable signs may include:

  • A fluttering in your chest
  • A racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • A slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Fainting or near fainting

If you’re experiencing these symptoms frequently, you should see a doctor immediately. To diagnose a heart arrhythmia, your doctor will review your symptoms and your medical history and conduct a physical examination.

Tests that your doctor may perform include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). Sensors (electrodes) that can detect the electrical activity of your heart are attached to your chest and sometimes your limbs.
  • Holter Monitor. A Holter monitor is typically worn for 24-48 hours to record your heart’s activity as you go about your day-to-day routine.
  • Event Monitor. This portable ECG device is attached to your body for around 30 days and you press a button when you have symptoms. This lets your doctor check your heart rhythm at the time of your symptoms.
  • Echocardiogram. In this noninvasive test, a hand-held device (transducer) placed on your chest uses sound waves to produce images to your heart’s size, structure, and motion. Learn more here.
  • Stress Test. During a stress test, you are asked to exercise on a treadmill or stationary bicycle while your heart activity is monitored. 
  • Electrophysiological Testing and Mapping. In this test, doctors thread in catheters tipped with electrodes through your blood vessels to a variety of spots within your heart. Once in place, the electrodes can map the spread of impulses through your heart.

What to Expect

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When seeing a doctor for heart rhythm problems, it is likely that you’ll be asked a number of questions. Be ready to answer all questions including, but not limited to, the following:

  • When did you first begin experiencing symptoms?
  • Have your symptoms been continuous, or do they come and go?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • Does anything help to improve your symptoms?
  • Is there a family history of arrhythmia?

How We Treat

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Usually, treatment is only required if the arrhythmia is causing significant symptoms or if it’s putting you at risk of a more serious arrhythmia or any other complications. There are several ways to treat different arrhythmia conditions including medications, catheter ablation, the use of implantable devices (pacemakers, ICDs, etc.) to control heart rhythms, and surgical treatments.

FAQs

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Is there anything I can do to help with my heart arrhythmia?

In addition to treatments, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes including: eating more heart-healthy foods, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control, and drinking alcohol in moderation.

What causes arrhythmias?

Arrhythmias may be caused by many different factors including: coronary artery disease, electrolyte imbalances in your blood, changes in your heart muscle, injury from a heart attack, or healing after surgery. Sometimes, irregular heart rhythms occur in “normal, healthy” hearts as well.