What is Arrhythmia?

Arrhythmia is a term encompassing a range of cardiac conditions characterised by an abnormal heart rhythm. The heart’s rhythm is orchestrated by electrical impulses that coordinate the contraction and relaxation of its chambers. When this rhythm becomes irregular, too fast, or too slow, it can lead to a condition known as arrhythmia. This disruption in the heart’s natural rhythm can have various manifestations, affecting the overall cardiovascular health of an individual.

Types of arrhythmia

There are different types of arrhythmia, the most common are:

  • Atrial fibrillation (AF) is one of the most prevalent types of arrhythmia, characterised by irregular and rapid heartbeats. The heart’s upper chambers, the atria, quiver instead of contracting effectively, leading to compromised blood flow. AF increases the risk of stroke and other heart-related complications.
  • Atrial flutter is usually a fast heart rhythm where the top chambers of the heart contract at a very fast rate compared to the lower chambers. This can cause the top chambers to beat extremely fast, sometimes up to 300 beats per minute (bpm).
  • Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a very fast heart rhythm. There are different types of SVT. Most are due to electrical impulses not travelling normally from the top chambers of the heart to the bottom chambers of the heart.
  • Tachybrady syndrome (sick sinus syndrome) causes periods of very fast or slow heart beats.
  • Ventricular tachycardia is a condition where the heart’s lower chambers, the ventricles, beat too quickly. This can be a serious arrhythmia, potentially leading to life-threatening complications. ventricular fibrillation – a rare, rapid and disorganised rhythm of heartbeats that rapidly leads to loss of consciousness and sudden death if not treated immediately.
  • Bradycardia, in contrast to tachycardia, bradycardia is characterised by a slower-than-normal heart rate. This can impede the heart’s ability to pump an adequate amount of blood to the body.
  • Heart blocks are caused by a delay or blockage in the conduction system between the top and bottom chambers of the heart which can cause a slow heart rate.

Causes of arrhythmia

Arrhythmias can arise from various factors, including:

  • Heart disease
    Underlying heart conditions, such as coronary artery disease or heart attack, can disrupt the heart’s electrical system and lead to arrhythmias.
  • High blood pressure
    Hypertension puts strain on the heart, increasing the likelihood of developing arrhythmias.
  • Diabetes
    Uncontrolled diabetes can damage the nerves that regulate the heart’s rhythm.
  • Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
    These lifestyle factors can contribute to the development of arrhythmias.

Symptoms of arrhythmia

The symptoms of arrhythmia can vary based on the type and severity of the condition. Common signs include:

  • Palpitations
    Irregular or rapid heartbeats may be felt as fluttering in the chest.
  • Fatigue
    A compromised blood flow can lead to feelings of tiredness and weakness.
  • Dizziness or fainting
    Insufficient blood supply to the brain can result in dizziness or fainting spells.
  • Shortness of breath
    Inadequate blood circulation may lead to difficulty breathing, especially during physical exertion.

Treatment available for arrhythmia

The treatment approach for arrhythmia depends on the type and severity of the condition. Common treatment options include:

  • Medications
    Anti-arrhythmic medications help regulate the heart’s rhythm and manage symptoms.
  • Cardioversion
    This procedure involves restoring the heart’s normal rhythm through electrical shocks or medications.
  • Catheter ablation
    In this minimally invasive procedure, targeted areas of the heart are treated to correct abnormal electrical pathways.
  • Pacemaker implantation
    For bradycardia, a pacemaker may be implanted to regulate the heart rate.
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD)
    This device is implanted to monitor and correct life-threatening arrhythmias.

Risks and complications associated with arrhythmia

Ignoring arrhythmia can lead to severe complications, including:

  • Stroke
    The irregular heartbeats in conditions like atrial fibrillation can cause blood clots, increasing the risk of stroke.
  • Heart failure
    Persistent arrhythmias can weaken the heart over time, leading to heart failure.
  • Sudden cardiac arrest
    Certain arrhythmias, especially ventricular tachycardia, can escalate into a life-threatening condition known as sudden cardiac arrest.
  • Fatigue and reduced quality of life
    Untreated arrhythmias can result in persistent fatigue and a diminished quality of life.

The responsive team facilitates appointments, and scheduling for a Cardiac Consultation, initially accommodating both in-person and virtual consultations based on patient preferences.