Abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia)
An abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia) is any variation in the normal heartbeat. Abnormal heartbeats occur when the heart has an irregular heart rhythm, beats too fast (tachycardia), or beats too slow (bradycardia).
The electrical system of the heart creates signals that trigger the heart to pump. These electrical signals control the heart rate and rhythm. Normally, the heart beats in a regular rhythm and at a rate that is appropriate for the work the body is doing. An arrhythmia results from a problem in the electrical system of the heart.
What are common symptoms of heart rhythm problems?
Heart rhythm problems, called arrhythmias, can cause a few types of symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:
Having palpitations means that you are unusually aware of your heartbeat. Some people describe them as:
- A "fluttering" in their chest.
- A "skipped beat."
- A "pounding sensation."
- A feeling that the heart is "jumping out of my chest."
If you have an arrhythmia that causes your heart to beat too fast or too slow, you may feel lightheaded or dizzy.
Syncope (say "SING-kuh-pee") is a sudden loss of consciousness that doesn't last long. It may be the first sign that you have an arrhythmia.
Shortness of breath.
Feeling short of breath (dyspnea) often happens during arrhythmias. This symptom can be hard for people to describe. It may be referred to as:
- Feeling short of breath.
- Feeling tightness in the chest.
- Being winded.
- Feeling tired from walking.
How can you care for yourself when you have cardiac arrhythmia?
- Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
- Avoid colds and flu. Get a pneumococcal vaccine shot. If you have had one before, ask your doctor if you need another dose. Get a flu vaccine every year.
- Wear medical alert jewelry that says you have an abnormal heart rhythm. You can buy this at most drugstores.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet.
- If they cause symptoms, limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Do not smoke or use nicotine. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
- Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.
- Ask your doctor whether you can take over-the-counter medicines (such as decongestants). These can make your heart beat fast.
- If you think you may have a problem with drug use, talk to your doctor. Certain drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, can speed up your heart's rhythm.
- Talk to your doctor about any limits to activities, such as driving.
- Get regular exercise. Try for 30 minutes on most days of the week. Ask your doctor what level of exercise is safe for you. If activity is not likely to cause health problems, you probably do not have limits on the type or level of activity that you can do. You may want to walk, swim, bike, or do other activities.
- When you exercise, watch for signs that your heart is working too hard. You are pushing too hard if you cannot talk while you exercise. If you become short of breath or dizzy or have chest pain, sit down and rest.
- Keep a diary of your heart rate and symptoms if your doctor asks you to. Check your pulse daily. Place two fingers on the artery at the palm side of your wrist, in line with your thumb.