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Cardiac Arrhythmia: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help


About cardiac arrythmia

Cardiac arrythmia is a heart problem characterised by abnormal electrical activity in the heart resulting in its disorderly rhythm.

The heart consists of two upper chambers namely atria and two lower chambers namely ventricles, which contract in a coordinated fashion. The signal for contraction of heart muscles, also called electrical impulse, begins in the SA node (pacemaker) placed in one of the atria. This electrical impulse is then passed along atria and ventricles, resulting in synchronised heart beats. The normal heart rate is 72 regular beats per minute.

Any disorder in the electrical conduction of impulses may result in un-coordinated or abnormal rhythm of heart, called arrythmias. At times, the heart rate may be regular but slower than 60 beats per minute and is termed as bradycardia whereas heart rate of more than 100 per minute is called tachycardia.

Cardiac arrythmia: Incidence, age and sex

Cardiac arrythmias are commonly seen in the general population. Although it can occur in any age group, it is predominantly seen in older adults.

Signs and symptoms of cardiac arrythmia: Diagnosis

Cardiac arrythmias has a varied clinical spectrum. Some individuals may be asymptomatic or experience occasional episodes of palpitations and skipping beats. However cardiac arrythmias in some individuals may present with breathlessness, fainting spells, increased sweating and fatigue. Following are some examples of cardiac arrythmia encountered in the general population:

  • Atrial Fibrillation- Rapid, irregular rhythm of upper chambers of heart.
  • Atrial Flutter- Similar to atrial fibrillation but more synchronised.
  • Supraventricular tachycardia- Rapid but regular heart rate in atria.
  • Ventricular Fibrillation- Erratic, irregular rate originating in the lower chambers of heart called ventricles. The heart is unable to pump out blood to other organs. This is a medical emergency.
  • Bradyarrythmias- Slow heart rate which can be either regular or irregular.

It is essential to consult a cardiologist when an individual experiences the above stated symptoms. Cardiac arrythmia can be diagnosed by auscultation of the chest during physical examination. However, other investigations like ECG, ambulatory cardiac monitoring, stress tests and electrophysiology studies may be needed to establish the type of cardiac arrythmia.

Causes and prevention of cardiac arrythmia

Several causes of cardiac arrythmia have been postulated including drugs and other diseases. Coronary artery disease of heart or angina may predispose to cardiac arrythmia in many individuals. Furthermore, kidney diseases or severe dehydration may also result in arrythmia in response to electrolyte imbalance. Certain medications like beta blockers or psychotropics are also offending factors in causations of arrythmia.

Some preventive measures include maintaining optimal weight, regular physical exercises, appropriate dietary habits, smoking cessation and reduction in stress level.

Cardiac arrythmia: Complications

The complications of cardiac arrythmia include partial or complete heart block characterised by failure of conduction of electrical impulses within the heart. This is a serious condition which demands immediate medical attention. Other complications are also fatal and include heart attack, stroke or sudden death.

Cardiac arrythmia: Treatment

The goal of treatment is to regularize and stabilize the rhythm of the heart. This can be done by medications, using electric current or by implanting a pacemaker. Medications like anti-arrythmic drugs may be prescribed to normalise the heart rate. Other medications like anti-coagulants may also be used to prevent clotting of blood which may occur due to erratic pumping by the heart. Defibrillation procedure which uses electric shock may be considered in management of ventricular fibrillation. In some individuals, pacemaker can be implanted which will send renewed electric signals to the heart muscles. Other modalities of treatment include cardioversion and radiofrequency ablation.