A normal heart typically beats in a steady, even rhythm, about 60 to 100 times each minute. However, sometimes your heart gets out of rhythm and becomes irregular; this abnormal heartbeat is an arrhythmia. Arrhythmias occur when the electrical signals to the heart that coordinate heartbeats are not working as they should.
An arrhythmia or dysrhythmia can bring on a heartbeat that is too fast or too slow, or uneven heartbeat. When the heart beats faster than normal, it is called tachycardia. When the heart beats too slowly, it is called bradycardia. The most common type of arrhythmia is called atrial fibrillation. This causes an irregular and fast heartbeat.
Most arrhythmias are not serious, but some can increase the risk of stroke or cardiac arrest. Some arrhythmias have no associated symptoms but sometimes include dizziness, breathlessness, and palpitations. Keep in mind, a slow heartbeat is not always a sign of illness.
Factors that can cause the heart to work incorrectly, include:
- Alcohol abuse
- Heart disease like congestive heart failure
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland)
- Drug abuse
- Excessive coffee consumption
- Mental stress
- Scarring of the heart, often the result of a heart attack
- Some dietary supplements
- Some herbal treatments
- Some medications
- Structural changes of the heart
Rarely does a healthy person ever suffer from long-term arrhythmia unless they have an external trigger, such as drug abuse or an electric shock.
Symptoms of arrhythmias include:
- Fast or slow heartbeat
- Skipping beats
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Your doctor can run tests to find out if you have an arrhythmia. Treatment to restore your heart to a normal heart rhythm may include medicines, an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) or pacemaker, or sometimes surgery.