What are the major risk factors for developing arrhythmias?
A normal heartbeat occurs at a rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute at rest and has a regular rhythm. Arrhythmias occur when there is an interruption in the electrical pathway that causes the heart to beat. This may result in the heart beating too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. There are many different types of arrhythmias which range from harmless to life-threatening. Here we will discuss the causes of arrhythmias, the symptoms that they may present with, how arrhythmias are diagnosed, and how they are treated.
There are many risk factors that can predispose certain people to arrhythmias. These include
- Age greater than 65 years old
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Underlying heart disease
- Thyroid disease
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Certain medications
- Drugs (including caffeine!)
What symptoms do arrhythmias cause?
The symptoms of an arrhythmia can range depending on the type of arrhythmia and the severity. For example, tachycardia is a type of arrhythmia that causes the heart to beat too fast at a rate greater than 100 beats per minute.
Tachycardia can result in palpitations (an uncomfortable feeling of your heart fluttering in your chest), chest pain, shortness of breath, or a feeling of anxiety. On the other hand, bradycardia is a type of arrhythmia where the heart beats too slow at a rate of less than 60 beats per minute. Bradycardia can cause symptoms such as lightheadedness, dizziness, passing out, or tiredness. Different arrhythmias can present with different symptoms but some common symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, swelling, passing out, or fatigue.
How do doctors diagnose arrhythmias?
To diagnose an arrhythmia, a physician must determine the type of the arrhythmia as well as attempt to identify the underlying cause.
This includes obtaining a detailed history about a patient’s risk factors. Tests that are typically used to diagnose arrhythmias include ECGs, Holter monitors (wearable ECG devices that record your heart’s electrical activity over time), or echocardiograms.
What are the treatment options for arrhythmias?
The treatment of arrhythmias includes treating the underlying cause of the arrhythmia (for example, treating thyroid disease may cure the arrhythmia) or taking anti-arrhythmic medications.
In certain situations, a doctor may need to perform a cardioversion, or an electric shock, to reset the heart rhythm. In other cases, a surgeon will do an ablation therapy, where they destroy damaged heart tissue to restore the electrical pathway of the heart.
Sometimes, the doctor will need to place a pacemaker to regulate the heartbeat, or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator to protect against life-threatening arrhythmias.
What are the complications of arrhythmias?
Treatment is essential for preventing the complications of arrhythmias. One example of an arrhythmia that can lead to serious complications is atrial fibrillation, which can cause strokes.
In atrial fibrillation, the top chambers of the heart are not pumping efficiency, which can cause blood to pool and form clots. These clots can dislodge, travel to the brain, and cause a stroke, which can lead to brain damage or death. Other types of arrhythmia can result in heart failure, which means that the heart isn’t pumping enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Overall, it is important to take care of your heart health through regular monitoring!