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Arrhythmias (Heart Rhythm Disturbances)
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What are Arrhythmias (Heart Rhythm Disturbances)?

Arrhythmias are abnormal beats of the heart, such as:

  • Heartbeats that are too slow ( bradycardia )
  • Heartbeats that are too fast (tachycardia)
  • Extra beats
  • Skipped beats
  • Beats coming from abnormal areas of the heart

Heartbeat: Anatomy of the Heart
The Heart
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Arrythmias can also be classified by the point of origination within the heart muscle:

  • Arrhythmias originating within the atria
  • Arrhythmias originating within the ventricles

The heart is a muscular pump with its own power supply and internal controls. It generates its own electrical signals to prompt each heartbeat and can therefore beat independently of the rest of the body. The electrical signal begins in a "pacemaker" called the sinoatrial, or sinus, node, which is in the back of...

Arrhythmias are very common, both the harmless type and the dangerous type. An arrhythmia can be caused by:

  • The heart's natural pacemaker developing an abnormal rate or rhythm
  • The normal electrical conduction pathway being interrupted
  • Another part of the heart (other than the sinus node) taking over as pacemaker

The most common cause of dangerous arrhythmias is a heart attack. When the heart is deprived of adequate blood supply during a heart attack, its electrical activity can become erratic. Diseased heart valves and diseased heart muscle, direct injury to the heart, diseases that alter the body's chemical balance, and several kinds of medication can also upset the heart's circuitry.

The most common causes of arrhythmia include:

  • [Coronary artery...

Some arrhythmias may occur without any symptoms. Others may cause noticeable symptoms, such as:

  • Fainting
  • Dizziness, sensation of lightheadedness
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Sensation of your heart fluttering (palpitations)
  • Sensation of a missed or extra heart beat

Fainting, dizziness, lightheadedness, weakness, fatigue, and shortness of breath all mean that your brain or your muscles are not getting enough blood because your heart isn't pumping effectively.

Chest pain means that the heart itself is not getting enough blood. This is called angina.

Some people report an unusual feeling of their “heart beating,” especially if it is beating abnormally. With none of the other symptoms, this may be harmless or it...

Arrhythmias may be identified either during routine health check-ups or when you first report having symptoms. In either case, the doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam, which includes listening to your heart. For older patients and those with symptoms or risk factors for heart disease, the healthcare provider will focus extra attention on cardiovascular health.

Tests may include:

Blood Tests—These tests evaluate your overall health, the function of your kidneys, the levels of various electrolytes, and may provide clues about your heart's health.

Urine Tests—These tests assess your general health and look for certain markers in the urine that may determine what is happening with your heart.

Electrocardiogram (EKG)—The...

The most common cause of dangerous arrhythmias is a heart attack, which results from heart disease. Prevention of arrhythmias is mostly a matter of reducing your risk of heart disease and then preventing subsequent rhythm disturbances if you survive the first one. However, there are a few measures that specifically influence your risk of arrhythmias.

General Guidelines for Reducing Your Risk of Arrhythmias

Manage Stress

Stress may raise your risk of arrhythmias if you have predisposing factors. If you need support or assistance in reducing stress, you may want to try some of the following techniques:

  • Counseling
  • Stress management classes
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Yoga

Beware of Medications That May Cause Arrhythmias


American Heart Association


7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX 75231



Internet Address:

Description of Services Provided:

AHA offers patient and physician information, advocacy, research support, publications, and health news related to cardiovascular diseases. It has local offices in every state that provide instructional materials and classes in CPR and emergency cardiovascular care.

Heart Rhythm Society


1400 K Street, NW
Suite 500
Washington, DC 20005


(202) 464-3400

Internet Address:

Description of Services Provided:

Library of consumer and professional information on diseases...

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