Arrhythmia or Heart Rhythm Problems


Your heart has a natural rhythm – beating at a strong and steady pace. But for some, the heart falls out of its normal rhythm. This is called arrhythmia. When an arrhythmia occurs, the heart's rhythm becomes irregular, too fast (tachyarrhythmia) or too slow (bradyarrhythmia).

Most arrhythmias are harmless, but some can be serious or even life-threatening. During an arrhythmia, the heart may not be able to pump enough blood to the body. Lack of blood flow can damage the brain, heart and other organs. Heart rhythm problems in people with heart failure can be serious and make heart failure worse if they are not treated.

Arrhythmia Symptoms

Be alert to symptoms that may be caused by heart rhythm problems including:

  • Skipped heart beats
  • A "fluttering" or pounding feeling in the chest
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Periodic weakness
  • Fainting or sudden loss of consciousness

Diagnosis & Treatment

How Is Arrhythmia Diagnosed?

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG) - an electrocardiogram measures the electrical activity of your heart
  • Ambulatory electrocardiogram or Holter monitoring – records your heart rhythm over time
  • Echocardiogram – uses sound waves to create a picture of the heart
  • Electrophysiology study – a catheter, threaded through a vein to the heart, measures the heart’s electrical activity

How Is Arrhythmia Treated?

Treatment may only be required only if the arrhythmia is causing significant symptoms or if it’s putting you at risk of a more serious complication. Options might include:

  • Maze procedure – creates scar tissue to block excess electrical impulses from traveling through your heart
  • Pacemaker – a battery-powered device that sends electrical impulses to help the heart maintain a regular heartbeat
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) – uses electrical pulses to control abnormal heart rhythms, especially ones that can be life-threatening
  • Medications - to control the heart’s rhythm or thin the blood to prevent clots and a potential stroke
  • Cardioversion – a low-voltage electrical shock to return the heart to a normal rhythm
  • Catheter ablation – destroys tiny areas in the heart that cause abnormal heart rhythm

If you experience any arrhythmia symptoms or have a family history of heart problems, talk to your Mercy primary care doctor. Your doctor can make an initial evaluation and refer you to one of many Mercy heart specialists.

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