Types of arrhythmias
There are two main categories of arrhythmias:
- Supraventricular Arrhythmias originate in the atria, or heart's upper chambers.
- Ventricular Arrhythmias originate in the ventricles, or heart's lower chambers
One of the most common arrhythmias is atrial fibrillation (AFib). This occurs when the two small upper chambers of the heart "quiver" rather than beat normally, which causes blood to pool in the atria.
Other types of arrhythmias include:
- Tachycardia: Heart beating too fast (more than 100 beats per minute)
- Bradycardia: Heart beating too slow (less than 60 beats per minute)
- Bradyarrhythmia: Slow heart rhythm that may be caused by disease in the heart's electrical conduction system
Arrhythmia causes and risk factors
Although no one knows what causes the onset of an arrhythmia, it's often seen as a result of other heart conditions, including:
- Coronary artery disease
- Electrolyte imbalances (including sodium or potassium imbalance)
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Heart surgery
- Heart inflammation
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Valve disorders
Having any of these conditions may increase your risk of developing an arrhythmia.
Symptoms of arrhythmia
Depending on the type of arrhythmia, you may not notice any symptoms. If you do, the most direct sign is a feeling of skipped heartbeats, a fluttering sensation or a pounding in the chest. Other arrhythmia symptoms include:
- Chest discomfort
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained weakness or fatigue
How a heart arrhythmia can affect you
Arrhythmias cause your heart to pump blood less effectively. If your body's organs and tissues aren't getting the blood they need, they can become damaged, which affects your whole health.
With AFib, blood pooling in the heart may eventually clot. If these blood clots get into your bloodstream, they can cause blockages. People with AFib are especially at risk for stroke due to blood clots blocking blood flow to the brain.
Getting an arrhythmia diagnosis
If your primary care provider thinks you may have an arrhythmia, they'll refer you to a cardiologist for further testing. In addition to blood work, they may also recommend these tests:
- Echocardiogram (ECG)
- Electrocardiogram (EKG)
- Stress test (exercise or pharmacological)