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Everything that you need to know about Arrhythmias: causes, warning signs and management

A heart arrhythmia occurs if there is a disturbance anywhere along the nerve signal pathway in the heart chambers.

What is arrhythmia

Heart arrhythmias, also called cardiac arrhythmias, are irregular heart rhythms that result when the heart beats irregularly or unevenly. A heart arrhythmia occurs if there is a disturbance anywhere along the nerve signal pathway in the heart chambers. There are many different types of heart arrhythmias and some are more serious than others, causing a fainting spell or sudden death. The human heart is made up of four chambers, and each chamber performs its task in harmony with the others. The heart rhythm is controlled by a natural pacemaker in the right atrium (upper chamber of the heart) called the sinus node which produces electrical impulses that start a heartbeat. Arrhythmias can occur when the sinus node degenerates and an abnormal rhythm develops disrupting the entire process of blood pumping.

Causes and risk factors

Irregular heartbeat may be experienced anytime during the day while engaging in daily physical activities, due to anxiety, stress or over-consumption of caffeine. People with existing medical conditions such as coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid problems, sleep apnea (interruption in breathing during sleep) and electrolyte imbalance (imbalance of potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium in the body) are at a higher risk of developing arrhythmias. Apart from these medical conditions, excessive consumption of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and some other drugs may increase risk.

Warning signs

While some patients suffering from an arrhythmia may never experience any symptoms and discover it during a visit to the doctor, following are some of the warning signs:

· Racing heartbeat or a slow heartbeat

· Fainting (syncope)

· Chest pain

· Feeling of fluttering and pounding in the chest

· Suddenly experiencing shortness of breath and unable to sleep because of the same

· Rise in anxiety levels

· Fatigue

· Light-headedness or dizziness

· Sweating

Therefore, it is important to be aware and on experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, it one must consult their doctor immediately.

Management

The diagnosis of an arrhythmia involves a detailed review of the symptoms along with the patient’s medical history followed by a physical examination. After evaluation, if the patient is found to be suffering from slow heartrate, the abnormality can be treated by implanting a pacemaker. It is a device that is implanted near the patient’s collarbone and has one or more electrode tipped wires that run from the device through the patient’s blood vessels to the inner heart. It sends out electrical impulses that stimulate the heart to beat at a steady rate. Abnormally fast heartbeats can be treated through catheter ablation and other procedures. In this case, medications can also help unlike in the case of an abnormally slow heartrate.

Precautionary measures

It is also important to remember prevention and precautionary measures go hand-in-hand alongside the treatment procedure. The following measures can go a long way in helping manage arrhythmias and living a long and healthy life:

· Quit smoking and avoid second-hand smoke

· Maintain a healthy body weight

· Avoid stress

· Engage in physical exercise regularly

· Consume a low-fat and well-balanced diet

· Limit the consumption of caffeine and alcohol

· Go for regular check-ups


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