Heart Arrhythmia

Overview

Heart Arrhythmia is one of the heart disease (disorder of the heart) that describes an irregular heartbeat. The heart may beat too fast, too slowly, too early, or irregularly.

Heart arrhythmia occurs when the electrical signals to the heart that synchronizes heartbeats are not functioning properly. For example, certain individuals with this condition experience irregular heartbeats that may feel as if the heart is in a race or fluttering.

The majority of the arrhythmias are not harmful but if they are particularly abnormal or occur because of a damaged heart or a weak heart, then it can cause a solemn and even possibly fatal symptoms.

Heart arrhythmia has effective treatment that often eliminates or controls slow, fast, or irregular heartbeats.

At the same time, since troublesome heart arrhythmias may become worse, especially when caused by weakened or damaged heart, a patient may minimize the condition by adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle. 

According to World Health Organization, cardiovascular heart disease of which arrhythmia is one of them, causes 17.9 million deaths every year. This represents 31% of all deaths worldwide and unfortunately, 75% of these deaths occur in low-and middle-income countries such as Kenya.

At the same time, 85% of these deaths occur due to heart attacks, strokes, and unmanaged irregular heartbeats. In Kenya, it is estimated that 25% of hospital admissions and 13% of deaths are due to cardiovascular diseases.

Symptoms

Heart arrhythmias may not cause any symptoms or signs. Surprisingly, your doctor may discover you have an arrhythmia before you do, during routine checkup.

However, observable symptoms and signs do not essentially mean you have a serious problem. Some of the common noticeable arrhythmia symptoms include:

  • A racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • A fluttering in the chest
  • A slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting (syncope) or near fainting

Causes

Arrhythmia is mainly caused by any interruption to the electrical impulses that make the heart to contract. A healthy person should have a heart rate of between 60 and 100 beats per minute at rest.

The more fit an individual is, the lower their heart rate at rest. For instance, Olympic athletes will normally have a resting heart rate because their hearts are very effective.

Risk Factors

Some of the key factors can cause the heart to work incorrectly include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug abuse
  • Excessive consumption of coffee
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Other heart disease such as congestive heart failure
  • Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland)
  • Mental stress
  • Smoking
  • Some herbal treatments
  • Mental stress
  • Some dietary supplements
  • Scarring of the heart mostly because of a heart attack
  • Structural changes of the heart
  • Certain medications

Diagnosis

Numerous tests can be conducted to help the doctor diagnose an arrhythmia and monitor the effectiveness of patient’s treatment. Some of these tests include:

  • Holter monitor: It is a small, portable electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) recorder that can record 24 hours or more of continuous electrocardiographic signals.
  • Transtelephonic monitor: Best for monitoring arrhythmias that pass quickly or occur infrequently. It is an event monitor that is often attached to bracelets, patches, or finger clips worn under the arms for one or two months.
  • Treadmill testing: It is sometimes termed as exercise stress test or simply stress test. It can diagnose individuals whose suspected arrhythmias are exercise-related.
  • Tilt-table test: Often suggested if the patient is suffering from fainting spells. It shows how your blood pressure and heart rate respond when changing positions from standing up to lying down and vice versa.
  • Electrophysiologic testing (EP study): In this procedure, performed under local anesthesia, temporary electrode catheters are threaded through peripheral veins (or arteries) into the heart using a fluoroscope. 
  • Esophageal electrophysiologic procedure: This procedure involves a thin flexible catheter inserted into the nostril and positioned in the esophagus to perform an electrocardiogram (EKG).
  • Echocardiogram: It uses ultrasound waves to reveal the size of your heart, structure and motion. It uses echocardiography to monitor a baby’s growth in the womb and it is effective in providing valuable information about a heart with an arrhythmia.

Treatment

Treatment of arrhythmia is only required if the condition puts the patient at risk of a complication or more serious arrhythmia, or if the symptoms are severe.

Treatments for Bradycardia

If it is caused by an underlying condition, the conditions need to be treated first. If there is no underlying problem, the doctor may advise implanting a pacemaker.

A pacemaker is a tiny device that is placed under the skin of the abdomen or chest to help control abnormal heart rhythms.

They use electrical pulses to prompt the heart to beat at a normal minimum rate.

Treatments for Tachycardia

Treatments for tachycardia include vagal maneuvers, cardioversion, medications that reduce episodes of tachycardia, Implantable cardioveter-defibrillator (ICD), made procedure, ventricular aneurysm surgery, and coronary bypass surgery.

The ICD is useful for detecting abnormally fast rhythm and stimulating the heart to return to a normal rhythm.

Maze procedure is simply a sequence of surgical incisions that heal into scars and form blocks that guide electrical impulses that help the heart to beat effectively.

The ventricular aneurysm surgery helps to eliminate aneurysm (bulge) in a blood vessel that may be causing irregular heartbeats.

Prevention

To prevent heart arrhythmia, you need to embrace a heart-healthy lifestyle to minimize the risk of heart disease. This lifestyle includes:

  • Increasing physical activity
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Avoid smoking
  • Maintaining healthy weight
  • Avoiding or limiting caffeine and alcohol
  • Minimizing stress and anger
  • Using over-the-counter medications with caution